“Bacon’s single, most famous art-historical reference is probably that to Velàzquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. But in fact his paintings were more directly inspired by French artists, or artists living in France – Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Giacometti. Signs of this are visible across his oeuvre.” Martin Harrison, curator and editor of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné on the the most visible signs of French culture in Bacon’s work.
Francis Bacon, Monaco and French Culture presented at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco until 4 September 2016 explores the influence of French art and culture on the artist’s oeuvre. Based on an original idea by Martin Harrison, curator of the exhibition, the scenography by the Grimaldi Forum Design Office references the work of set designers Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig.
Major paintings from international collections, including Tate Britain and Centre Pompidou, are thematically displayed – The Human Body, The Portraits, Influences etc. – to demonstrate Bacon’s love-relationship with France and Monaco. The exhibition brings together sixty-six paintings by Bacon himself alongside works by leading artists who inspired him, including Picasso, Giacometti, and Léger.
Major loans from public collections around the world include Head VI (1949) from the Arts Council England, the extraordinary Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven), and Pope I (1951, Aberdeen Art Gallery). Private collections were also asked for works, including the triptych, Studies of the Human Body (1970), Turning Figure (1962), and Portrait of a Man Walking Down Steps (1972), Bacon’s most poignant tribute to George Dyer, painted shortly after his death. Other highlights include two pictures from Bacon’s Van Gogh series. The works are on show in a corridor leading from “the Dark Cave” section of the show to a room devoted to the artist’s representation of the human body.
The exhibition includes – for the first time – Francis Bacon’s first work, Watercolour (1929, Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation) and Bacon’s last painting, completed in 1991, the never before-exhibited Study of a Bull (1991, Private Collection). Tate dedicated two retrospectives to the artist during his lifetime, in 1962 and 1985, but Francis Bacon regarded the retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971 as the most significant of his career. This blue-chip exhibition certainly rivals with these retrospectives.