As the Royal Academy exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work – Francis Bacon: Man and Beast – comes to an end this week, we take a closer look at one of the paintings on display; Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969.
In 1966, Michel Leiris sent Bacon a new edition of his book Miroir de la Tauromachie, which may have provided a stimulus to embark on painting a bullfight. Bacon owned many illustrated books on bullfighting, among which the earliest so far identified is Peter Buckley, Bullfight (1958). However, while the configurations of bull and matador can be traced in part to these photographs, equally importantly he consulted them for incidental details – such as the encircled numerals on the rear barrier – which introduced an aspect of realism to the artificial arenas he constructed to contain the action.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 900).
The germ of the concept is embodied in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967 (67‑14). [In that painting], there are four roughly-sketched spectators behind the bull, anticipating the crowd that he would introduce in Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969 (69‑04).
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 854).
Two years later after the Isabel Rawsthorne portrait, Bacon created Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969 (69‑04) and two others, including Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969 (69-14). In this, Bacon simplified the first version, by dispensing with the crowd reflected in the mirror, but otherwise remained quite faithful to the earlier composition.
Clive Barker witnessed the ‘spontaneous’ addition of the white spurt of paint in the foreground [of this painting]. Bacon’s initial gesture was to throw a loaded brush at the canvas, after which he went to lunch. The paint was quite thin. When Barker went to the studio two days later Bacon was painstakingly going over the area, making it thicker and more defined. The shadow underneath the spurt was probably painted at the same time. It was perhaps an example, in the act of painting, of the phrase Lucian Freud applied to Bacon’s modus vivendi – calculated recklessness.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 922).
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