THE FORCE OF A PORTRAIT

Buste of a Man in a Frame

Of course, one does put in such things as ears and eyes. But then one would like to put them in as irrationally as possible. And the only reason for this irrationality is that, if it does come about, it brings the force of the image over very much more strongly than if one just sat down and illustrated the appearance…

Francis Bacon*,

In 1951, Bacon painted his first portrait of a famous person, British painter Lucian Freud, whom he depicted standing and leaning against a doorway. For years he painted friends and people he admired, such as Freud, Michel Leiris, Henrietta Moraes, Jacques Dupin, George Dyer, John Edwards, or Reinhard Hassert and Eddy Batache, among many others. Few of these portraits were commissions. Bacon almost always chose the subjects of his paintings, whom he painted based primarily on photographs that they sent him.

These paintings often had blue backgrounds, which might have been the color of his studio, where some of the photos were taken. Other times, the background is black and evokes the art of the great Spanish masters, while yet other works show other tones, including cadmium orange, which he used in his larger paintings. Bacon not only tried to capture the physical appearance of his subjects; he also tried to convey his relationship with them and how these bonds affected him. They are not psychological portraits but representations of human relations.

In his paintings, Bacon deforms people with the goal of making them more real than if he depicted them more realistically. Of his two portraits of Leiris, Bacon considers the less literal one more realistic. In the 1970s, claiming a lack of models for his works, he began to paint more self-portraits; between 1971 and 1979, he painted a total of 29, fifteen of them small individual self-portraits. Bacon achieved a great deal of international renown during this period. In 1971, he became the first living artist after Picasso to be the subject of a retrospective in the Grand Palais in Paris, and in 1988 he was the first Western artist to be the subject of an exhibition in the now-defunct Soviet Union.

David SylvesterThe Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962–1979, Interview 5 – 110:111