Horrible! The Art of Francis Bacon


Robert Hughes in the Guardian:

In 1988, Lucian Freud had an exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. It was a great success, of course: the German art audience knew about Freud already, and were able to see his work against the background memory of the German realist art movement of the 1920s known as Neue Sachlichkeit, “the new objectivity”.

In fact, the pictures were so well liked that one of them was stolen. It was a tiny portrait, done in 1952 on a sheet of copper no bigger than a leaf of typing paper, of his friend and fellow painter Francis Bacon. It belonged to the Tate, but someone just took it from the wall in Berlin and walked off with it.

Freud rang to tell me. It was shocking news. I had never known a friend’s painting to be stolen, particularly not a picture that I thought of as an unequivocal masterpiece: that smooth, pallid pear of a face like a hand-grenade on the point of detonation, those evasive-looking eyes under their blade-like lids, had long struck me as one of the key images of modernity, though a dozen years ago practically no one in America, where the big reputations were meant to be made, had even heard of Lucian Freud.

“Well,” I said to Freud, “at least there’s someone out there who’s really fanatical about your work.” “Oh, d’you think so ?” he replied. “You know, I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think whoever it was took it because he liked me. Not a bit of it. He must have been crazy about Francis. That would justify the risk.”

And as I chewed this over later, I came to think that Freud was quite possibly right.