Life and Death

One of the first subjects that Bacon painted was the pieces of meat that the artist saw displayed in butcher shops, which ended up becoming a recurring image in his oeuvre [see Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) in gallery 205]. To Bacon, meat represented the cycle of life and death. The depictions of flesh, dismembered bodies, and perhaps the open mouths that appear in his paintings reflect the suffering and devastation wrought by World War II.
Likewise, the profound mark left on Bacon by the suicide of his companion, George Dyer—which happened just a few days before the opening of his major retrospective in Paris’s Grand Palais in 1971—is palpable in his subsequent works, which are often haunted by the spectral figure of his partner. In his paintings from the early 1990s, the presence of flesh might also allude to Bacon’s own illness and imminent death.

In a letter from 1992, Bacon mentioned Damien Hirst, a young artist whose works were in the Saatchi Collection (London) at the time and who had used a cow’s head in one of his works. The artist may have felt some kind of affinity when he discovered the iconographic bond between him and Hirst.