bacon’s cry went hollow


Protestant Irish-born 99 years ago, Bacon grew to be the most famous British painter of the latter half of the 20th century. Myth, rumour and anecdote about his life have come to dominate discussion of his art, in the same way that his art fed on the litter of medical illustrations, books of nature photography, cricket annuals, newspaper clippings and gay body-building comics that he tramped underfoot in his midden of a studio, now rebuilt in Dublin. All those published conversations with David Sylvester, the hilarious drunken TV interview with Melvyn Bragg, John Maybury’s biopic with Derek Jacobi, and the appearance of Bacon paintings in the credits to Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris – all these things add to the intensity of Bacon’s painted scream. Aaaaarghhhh.

But it is a hollow cry. Francis Bacon was a pasticheur, a mimic. He ended up imitating himself. It was a kind of method acting. His career took off in the 1940s and with a few exceptions his best work was behind him by the mid-1960s. Walk through this show and feel the disengagement – yours as well as his – setting in. This latest retrospective, which will travel, among other places, to the Prado in Madrid, is as uneven and overstretched as the artist himself was. Bacon died suddenly in Madrid in 1992. Velázquez will kill him there again, when the show comes to town – but then Velázquez kills everyone.

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