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Bacon painted three full-length triptychs of Freud in 1964, 1966 and 1969. Andrew Sinclair writes that in the first one “Freud sprawls with one shoe pulled up, on a kitchen chair placed upon a crimson rostrum with an armchair back. The extreme mobility of his features in conversation and of his arms emphasising his points appear in the smudged outlines of skin and blurs of flesh and repetition of features that was becoming Bacon’s signature.”

In the mid-1950s Bacon had sold Freud Two Figures for only £100, and Freud kept this portrayal of Bacon having sex with a lover until his own death. By contrast, the third triptych, sold in 2013 for $142.4 million, set a world record for a painting at auction. Freud fondly recalled, “I used to have a lot of Francis’s paintings that he gave me or I bought . . . He gave me one of the popes with the tassel swinging across — you could almost see it move — and also a picture he did of two figures silhouetted against a blind in the South of France — which was very odd and witty.”

To reciprocate for Bacon’s art, Freud created three portraits of his friend. Sarah Howgate observes that he depicted “a man often hid behind his own blur, and whom the art world has often portrayed as almost beast-like”. Freud noted that Bacon grumbled a bit, as he always did, but “sat well and consistently”. In the pencil sketch Study of Francis Bacon (1952) the eyes in the heavy head gaze downward. Bacon’s open shirt and hands hidden behind his back reveal his naked torso. His trousers seductively folded open at the fly and his vulnerable belly suggest the sexual availability of a rent boy.

Freud’s most powerful portrait of Bacon, about 6 ½ by 4 ½ inches, was painted in 1952 with oil on copper plate while he was sitting knee to knee with his subject. In this detailed, sharply focused close-up, Bacon’s massive, pear-shaped, pillowy asymmetrical head is tilted slightly to the left. His lips are slanted, his heavy-lidded eyes are downcast and look inwards. A strand of hair hangs down his expansive forehead like a scar, and a heavy crease between his eyes and on the side of his nose accentuate his features. His bulging ovoid face — with its alarming pallor, twisted lips and swollen eyes — fills the whole frame and threatens to burst out of it. As Freud captures his alcoholic, masochistic and half-ruined character, Bacon seems trapped and trying to escape from the intense scrutiny in a confined space. This brilliant portrait, on loan from the Tate Gallery, was stolen from a Berlin exhibition in 1988. Freud designed a Wanted poster, modelled on those offering rewards for outlaws in old Western movies. The thieves demanded a ransom of £1 million, which was not paid, and the portrait has never been recovered.

In 1957 Freud painted a third, unfinished, portrait of Bacon in a looser, heavier style that reveals most of his face emerging from a cloudy white background. Bacon has a high forehead, thick eyebrows, heavy-lidded eyes, strong nose and full lips, and a sad fleshy face blotched with red. The picture, interrupted when Bacon left for Tangier, was never completed.

The artists had opposing attitudes to honours as well as to lineage. Bacon scorned and rejected official recognition while Freud sought and accepted it. The older artist, who had insulted Princess Margaret, turned down a knighthood and a Companion of Honour. He strongly disapproved when his younger friend accepted the latter and would have been even angrier in 1993 when Freud welcomed the UK’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Merit. Freud also aroused Bacon’s anger by perversely refusing to loan the coupling men in Two Figures for his second retrospective at the Tate. And Freud aroused Bacon’s wrath when he borrowed but never repaid large sums of money to support his obsessive gambling.

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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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