Francis Bacon is a contemporary painter who was born in Ireland in the early 20th century but gre up in Britain. Most of his paintings feature figures abstracted and isolated. It wasn’t until he was middle aged that Bacon’s painting career really took off. Despite being an existentialist, something that he often showed through his paintings, Bacon had a large group of friends and often went out and socialized, only becoming more introspective and spending time alone later in life after the suicide of his lover.
Many of Bacon’s paintings are recognizable on site. One such painting is Bacon’s Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Instead of the formal, regal image of the pope that Velazquez had done several centuries earlier, Bacon’s rendition of the same painting is dark and frightening. The pope is more like a ghost, a terrifying impression of what the pope once was. The chair is yellow and looks more like it is trapping Pope Innocent X instead of providing him comfort. His mouth is open in a scream that is not heard but seen. He is robed in purple and white instead of the usual red of the pope. The background is dark, murky and indistinct. Where he is, we do not know. There are also bands of color that run parallel to one another breaking up the image surface. Once again it looks as if the pope is trapped, the lines almost like the bars of a prison. Thought this painting is a study of Velazquez’s famous painting of the pope, it is as unlike the original as it possibly could. Instead of portraying the head of the church we are confronted with a horrifying figure that frightens instead of heals.
Another painting of Bacon’s done in the same style is Portrait 49. This painting is not a study of an older painting, nor does it depict anyone in particular. A man sits in some kind of box and is seen through windows. He sits in a chair, hands on the armrests, gripping hard. White skin makes the man look sick and ghostly. His mouth, just like the Pope’s, is opened wide in an unheard scream. He too is trapped, frightened and alone. We cannot tell where the man is, nor why exactly he is screaming, but we do know that he is trapped, wanting to get out of his small prison and yet unable, not even seeming to be able to rise from the chair.
Bacon’s art is very unique, even in the 20th
century when art was changing so vastly and at such a quick rate. Bacon’s paintings remain icons in the art world today, immediately recognizable as his with even just a quick glance. His art is beautiful, different and appreciated by many today.
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