Major Francis Bacon show to explore how animals fuelled artist’s fascination with flesh

Francis Bacon's Study for Bullfight No. 1 (1969) Private Collection, Switzerland. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Francis Bacons final painting Study of a Bull (1991) will be exhibited in the UK for the first time next year. The work will be part of a major exhibition titled Francis Bacon: Man and Beast (30 January-18 April 2021) at Londons Royal Academy of Arts, which will explore the artists interest in animal bodies and flesh, and how these affected his portrayals of other forms such as people or mythical creatures.

The exhibition will look at the influence of a trips made to South Africa in the early 1950s, his collection of wildlife photography and his interest in the pioneering work of the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose work revealed the motion of humans and animals frame-by-frame. According to the press release, “Bacon remained convinced that, beneath the veneer of civilisation, humans are animals like any other”.

Bacon's Head I (1948) © Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Richard S. Zeisler. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

The survey will include 45 paintings spanning Bacons career, with several loans from the US including Study of a Baboon (1953) from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Man with Dog (1953) from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. Another US loan, from New Yorks Metropolitan Museum of Art, will be Head I (1949), which is part of a series of six that Bacon made for his first exhibition at Hanover Gallery in London. The painting, which shows Bacons characteristic cuboid compositional structure for the first time, includes a fanged mouth that was apparently inspired by that of a snarling chimpanzee.

Bacons obsession with the Greek Furies will also be explored and the inspiration for the writhing figures linked to animal movements—an image of a diving pelican found on his studio floor, for example—as well as the ancient myths and Christian iconography. There will also be a gallery dedicated to Bacons muse and lover George Dyer, who Bacon had a tempestuous relationship with for a decade until his suicide in 1971.

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