This month we are turning our attention to the painting Head of a Man, 1960, being shown in November at the Gagosian exhibition Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews.
Robert Sainsbury bought the painting in 1961, and it is on loan to the Gagosian by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, University of East Anglia. According to Sainsbury, Bacon told him it was a self-portrait. Experts on Francis Bacon concur with this assessment, with author of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, Martin Harrison, writing that:
Despite the lack of comparators from 1960, there is no reason to doubt the identification, in which case Bacon’s motives for the anonymous title (and indeed for calling a half-length portrait a ‘Head’) are confusing.
Harrison goes on to discuss the conception of the painting:
Identical in format to Head of a Man, 1960 (60‑11) and Head of Woman, 1960 (60‑13), these were probably the last paintings that Bacon completed at Overstrand Mansions that were begun at, or were conceived at, St Ives: the viridian green of the chair is synonymous with most of his output in St Ives.
The self-portrait itself is described by Harrison thus:
It is only Bacon’s third or fourth (extant) self-portrait. He is seated, as in the earlier self-portraits, but on this occasion his facial expression combines a slightly wary wistfulness with an almost jaunty nonchalance.
Excerpts: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 612).
Unlike his contemporary and fellow subject of the Gagosian exhibition, Lucian Freud, whose consistent self-portraiture spanned nearly seven decades, Bacon seemed to have a complex relationship with portraying himself, telling the art critic David Sylvester that “I loathe my own face, but I go on painting it only because I haven’t got any other people to do.”
Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné can be purchased through our distributor’s website