The Many Controversies of Francis Bacon’s Life & Works
Artists are known for their eccentricities and have always had a kind of enigma that surrounded them. There are those that have always loved to bask in the limelight and some who have always kept their personal lives private. It is therefore worth waiting for the upcoming Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné that is rumored to showcase not only the exquisite works he had created but also into his controversial personal life. The oeuvre consists of a total of 584 paintings which has been catalogued in the folds of 1,538 pages. Of this grand collection only a third are displayed in museums, and most of the rest are buried in innumerous clandestine private collections. Now due to the advantages of the technique of reproducing colored works, it has become possible to observe and study quite lucidly the progression of his art.
The catalogue which was launched on the 24th of May in London’s Soho, where the artist was known to drink and feel most at home, will be published on the 30th of June. Martin Harrison, the editor has travelled relentlessly and has devoted 10 years of his career to build up and complete the project and has been unsuccessful with just but one painting – Head with Raised Arms (1955), the last records of which were in Turin around fifty years ago. The project whose cost is speculated to be in millions of pounds has been financed by Francis Bacon Estate.
For a long time people have only imagined what Bacon painted, Harrison now believes that this catalogue will actually help people see what he painted, providing a highly nuanced view of his work. While there are eleven works whose subject have been copulating males, eighteen of his paintings were female nudes. Some of these eighteen are, however androgynous making the number a little ambiguous. These paintings offer an insight into the artist’s personal life, bringing to light his complicated relationship with male lovers.
Bacon’s Self-portrait with Injured Eye from 1972 hints at the sadomasochistic aspect of his life. Bacon was known to suffer numerous beatings that may not really have been that unpleasant as he was a masochist. The injured eye in this particular work is deciphered as an autobiographical metaphor. The irony of bacon’s relationship with his long standing companion George Dyer is described by Harrison in one succinct sentence who mentions that Bacon “wanted to be raped by Dyer, whereas Dyer wanted to cuddle Bacon.”
Another relationship worth mentioning was between Bacon and Lucian Freud where Bacon had painted Freud a total of sixteen different times in the period of 1951 and 1973. The relationship fell apart when due to violence between Bacon and his friend Peter Lacy.
One of the more startling images in the catalogue is that of a triptych of Mick Jagger which is privately owned. Though Bacon had no interest in rock and roll, but he had always been fascinated with Jagger. This triptych Three Studies for a Portrait (Mick Jagger) (1982) was painted by studying his photographs.
The early patrons of Bacon, Robert & Lisa Sainsbury are featured in a number of his works. One interesting portrait, Lisa (1955) was inspired from Queen Nefertiti and bore hardly any resemblance to the real life Lisa.
The controversial Bacon drawings, 40 in number (1958 – 1961) were acquired in the year 1997 by Tate. These are best described as “problematic” works on paper which may not even be considered drawing in the orthodox definition of it, they can in fact be termed as “rapid sketches” at best.
It is the absence of 600 of his drawings that has garnered substantial notice that are rumored to have been gifted by the artist himself to his Italian lover Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino.
An unfinished portrait that the eccentric artist began working on shortly before his death is featured as the final one in the catalogue. This painting, which is claimed by many to be a self-portrait was found on Bacon’s easel in his studio. Harrison however has expressed his doubts about the identity of the man. Though the catalogue raisonné has been a big step in creating a crack to peep into the life of this magnificent artist, but Bacon, his life, and his works are still veiled under layers of mystery and enigma.