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Bacon, whose blurred faces were both a caress and an assault, painted the brutality of fact. Freud, who created anguished but exquisitely delineated figures, was the Ingres of Existentialism. Influenced by his Germanic heritage and the precise linear tradition of Holbein and Dürer, the young Freud established his ambience and mood with slow and patient scrutiny, with meticulous detail and riveting attention. His masterpieces, the high point of his career before he changed his style, were his 1952 portraits of Caroline Blackwood, which are as sensuous and stunning as Botticelli’s Venus.

Bacon had achieved fame decades before Freud and impressed the younger artist by his work and the force of his personality. Freud later remembered Bacon “as the man who amused and excited [him] by talking about paint carrying the form and packing a lot of things into a single brush-stroke”. In order to paint as fluently as Bacon, Freud stopped drawing and changed to a thicker and more painterly style of clashing brush strokes. Sebastian Smee notes that the influence occasionally went both ways. Bacon, “insecure about his own lack of facility as a draftsman, was also eager to learn what he could from his younger friend”.

Bacon painted 19 portraits of Freud, 14 of them between 1964 and 1971 modelled on photographs by his friend John Deakin. Bacon’s earlier Portrait of Lucian Freud (1951) was based on a photograph of the young Franz Kafka in Max Brod’s biography. Bacon portrays Freud with tiny eyes, thick chin and bangs of hair hanging down the forehead of his long narrow face. Wearing a dark suit and tie, standing in front of a doorway and casting a dark shadow on the white foreground, Freud looks like a criminal lurking on a dark street in a Hollywood film noir.

The painting doesn’t look like either Kafka or Freud. Smee asserts, “What Kafka had to do with Freud is impossible to say.” But it is possible to see, as Bacon did, Freud’s significant resemblance to Kafka, who died two years after the artist was born. Both the Kafka and Freud families came from cities — Prague and Vienna — in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both men were thin, handsome, Jewish, German-speaking, avant-garde artists, who felt (in Freud’s words) that “the task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable.” Like Kafka, Freud assaults and disturbs the sensibilities of his audience. Freud dismissively recalled this portrait: “I sat for one picture, and I thought it was pretty good a bit before the end, then he spoilt it.”

In 1964 Bacon painted a divided two-panel Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, pairing Freud with his Berlin-born fellow émigré and close friend. Both, in white T-shirts and no trousers, have grotesquely deformed features and monstrously misshapen legs. They recline on huge red divans, enclosed by strangely tilting and threatening walls. Three years later, in his Portrait of George Dyer and Lucian Freud, Bacon’s suicidal lover wears a dark suit and tie and crosses one leg on his thigh. His swivelling double face, bruised and swollen like a boxer who has just lost a fight, looks toward and away from Freud. The artist is seated next to Dyer, in front of a heavy green curtain and behind a shiny, reflecting table that supports a small cat. Dressed in an open-collar white shirt and grey trousers, Freud clasps his hands on his knee. In both portraits Freud and his companion are distorted and detached from each other. Bacon does not portray Freud’s appearance, but conveys the powerful perception of his tormented genius.

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Jeff
October 11th, 2017
12:10 PM
Chrystosom: I'd say it's a significant comment on the state of art criticism, not necessarily the state of art.

John Borstlap
September 29th, 2017
8:09 PM
All this low-life and bickering about the prices of their works, what impression does it convey? Of talented, but rather degenerated men, and this shows in their works: it is all about the sordid aspects of life, without any transformative idea behind it. No wonder their works got so popular: like crime series on TV and pulp fiction, many people prefer this to something that would require some mental or emotional effort. In fact, it is populist art, as populist as concept art and abstraction - the style may be different but the sentiments are comparable: nihilism. Why the status? Because seeing such art being sold for so much money, relieves the sordid onlooker from guilt about his condition: if THAT is placed on the pedestal of 'expensive high art', then 'my sorry condition is OK'.

Chrysostom
September 28th, 2017
11:09 AM
It is a significant comment on the state of art today that this article (at least in the version I saw on line) did not have a single illustration of any work by these, so-called, modern artists, though we had pictures of the painters themselves.

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