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Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s

January 27–April 15, 2007
Baker/Rowland Exhibition Galleries

Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s is the first exhibition to look in detail at this extraordinarily fertile decade in Bacon’s life and affords the viewer unprecedented insight into the artist’s imaginative powers as well as his constantly evolving sources and techniques. Although the most fruitful years in Bacon’s career, they were also the most tumultuous and tortured in the artist’s unsettled existence; Bacon was regularly without a fixed address, borrowing rooms and changing studios with bewildering frequency.

By the 1950s, Bacon had acquired sufficient technical prowess to forcefully express his vision, but he was still not fully in command of his disturbing images, which appear to rise from a dark well of the unconscious.

Francis Bacon

Yet the rawness and sense of urgency exhibited in these pictures transcend any pictorial problems that Bacon eventually did come to resolve with experience and technical ability. From the screaming heads and snarling chimpanzees of the late 1940s through the early Popes and portraits of van Gogh to the anonymous figures trapped in tortured isolation of some ten years later, Bacon created many of the most central and memorable images of his entire career during this time. Also making an appearance were dogs, owls, and elephants; sphinxes, children, and naked women; heads of William Blake, self-portraits, and portraits of friends. For this painter whose imagination so rarely strayed beyond the walls of a dark, claustrophobic interior, there were even glimpses of the African and French landscape.

The exhibition will be on view at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, October–December, 2006. From Norwich the exhibition will travel to the Milwaukee Art Museum, January 27–April 15, 2007; then on to the Albright–Knox Art Gallery, May 5–July 30, 2007.

This exhibition was initiated by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, with funding from the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust. It was curated by Michael Peppiatt, who is also the author of the exhibition catalogue.
  • Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Portraits, John Hewitt, 1966. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
  • Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Portraits, Lucian Freud, 1966. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
  • Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Portraits, Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
  • Francis Bacon, Figure With Meat, 1954. Oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Harriott A. Fox Fund. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2006 The Estate of Francis Bacon / ARS, New York / DACS, London