Study for Pope III, 1961
Private Collection –Courtesy Massimo Martino Fine Arts & Projects, Mendrisio
©The Estate of Francis Bacon / VEGAP, Valencia 2003
Photo courtesy of
VALENCIA • Institut Valencia d'Art Moderne Centre Julio González • Ongoing
|The aim of the present exhibition is to reverse that unquestioning tendency and to look at Bacon anew by focusing solely on a single theme that haunted the artist for over twenty years: the “Pope” pictures. By bringing together the whole series of paintings and restoring them to the context in which they were made, we hope to make more apparent the range of ambition, risk, intuition, unconscious impulse and despair that drove the relatively young and unknown Francis Bacon to make this unprecedented assault on one of the great icons of Western art and civilization. |
Bacon had been haunted by the power and beauty of Velázquez’s Retrato de Inocencio X (Portrait of Innocent X) for years before he painted Head VI, his first recognizable version of the picture, in 1949. He considered the Spanish master’s portrait to be one of the greatest images in all Western art and he had, in his own words, become “obsessed” with it. Reproductions of the famous painting, mostly in black and white, were pinned to his studio wall or scattered in the chaos of photographs and artist’s materials that littered the floor. At one point, Bacon likened his fascination with this particular image to a “crush” —the kind of semi-erotic hero-worship a young boy may develop for an older, more important pupil at school.
This curious love affair dominated Bacon’s painting life for over twenty years, from 1949 until the early 1970s; and it was not until 1971, when he completed a second version of Study for Red Pope was his obsession with Velázquez’s portrait finally worked through and abandoned. At that point Bacon had executed a good forty paraphrases of the Spanish masterpiece (or considerably more, if one takes into account the numerous versions which the artist abandoned or destroyed). Why did the “Pope” theme so captivate Bacon, causing him to make more variations on it than any other subject in his entire career? For what reason, out of the thousands of photographs and reproductions he kept in the chaos of his studio, did he return time and reproductions he kept in the chaos of his studio, did he return time and again to this one portrait by Velázquez? How did this constant paraphrase allow the artist to express deep-seated conflicts and urges that could not otherwise have been conveyed? What other sources informed this extraordinarily potent sequence of images? And, above all, why did the militantly and outspokenly atheistic Bacon cling so tenaciously to an image of religious significance?
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