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Beast Master

At last, says John Evans, there’s something to look forward to – the Royal Academy’s Francis Bacon exhibition

10 September, 2020 — By John Evans

Francis Bacon’s Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969, private collection, Switzerland

IT’S always exciting when a new exhibition of an important artist includes paintings from private collections.

And when the institution is the Royal Academy and the artist is Francis Bacon, it’s worth looking forward to what promises to be a spectacular show.

It’s a little way off, but put the date of January 30 in the diary for the launch of Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.

This is billed as the first exhibition to explore his fascination with animals and how it affected his depiction of the human figure.

Among the works will be one of Bacon’s best-known paintings, on loan from the Tate, Second Version of Triptych 1944, with three howling creatures that first appeared in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. For this reworking, painted in 1988, Bacon changed the background to a blood red, compared with the earlier orange, to add more drama to the figures he associated with the Greek Furies, despite the crucifixion link.

Bacon’s Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966, private collection

As the RA experts say: “Since his death, the world has changed in ways that make his unnerving work ever more prescient.”

Bacon was born in 1909 and died in 1992 and among the 45 paintings to be included, and spanning his entire career, will be the final work he made, to be shown publicly here for the first time in the UK.

Study of a Bull, 1991, is from a private collection and the RA says it was not “discovered” until 2016.

Another milestone will be a trio of paintings of bullfights, from 1969, to be displayed together for the first time.

The artist’s exploration of the boundaries between the human and non-human animal is central. And themes will include his interest in the “physicality” of the head. Before his first solo show Bacon produced his series of six Heads, three of which will be exhibited.

They are unsettling, and, as the RA notes: “The inner animal comes to the surface with particular force in Head I, 1949 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) whose snarling mouth originated in a photograph of a chimpanzee.” Nearby will hang two of Bacon’s portraits after Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Francis Bacon’s Head VI, 1949, Arts Council Collection, London

Bacon knew the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, exploring human and animal in motion and this influenced his depiction of movement through extreme distortion.

Other highlights, each from a private collection, will include Bacon’s seldom-seen 1953 Two Figures, a powerful mix of passion and brutality, described by one critic as “apparently inspired by wrestling magazines” but which “might have been a Trojan horse for a work made when gay sex was illegal and in the news”; Triptych – Studies of the Human Body, 1970; Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981.

And a section on Bacon’s doomed lover, will feature another private loan, Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966. Dyer committed suicide in 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon’s Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris.

The show, of course, went on and Bacon would continue to create images of Dyer. Two paintings created after his death will also be displayed.

• Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Main Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, Jan 30 to April 18 2021. royalacademy.org.uk

Face of the future

ANIA Hobson was named Best Young Artist at the 2018 BP Portrait Awards and Hampstead’s Catto Gallery is hosting her first major London solo exhibition.

She painted from an early age in Suffolk, where she grew up and still lives, and studied at Suffolk University College, the Prince’s (now Royal) Drawing School, London, and at the Florence Academy of Art.

Catto says of Hobson: “The work is instantly recognisable. Her subjects are typically very relaxed, slouching even. And Ania frequently paints them from unusual viewpoints – either very high or low – which gives them an elongated and often monumental quality.”

Hobson herself says: “I like celebrating modern day women but I avoid painting them in a stereotypically feminine way. Women artists are now breaking through and becoming recognised for what we do, and I want to be part of that movement.”

The portraits are notable for an economy of style but also for an elegance partly brought about by the artist working to “curate” the pieces and place her subjects in a scene.

Other significant traits are how she incorporates fashion for a striking and contemporary look and her ability to crop a scene to intrigue us.

• Ania Hobson Exhibition is at Catto Gallery 100 Heath Street NW3 1DP until September 23.

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