A major retrospective exhibition of the paintings of Francis Bacon will be the focus of considerable attention when it opens at the Museo Correr in the middle of this month. Intentionally coinciding with the Venice Biennale, it carries the official stamp of the British Council which was approached by Achille Bonito Oliva, Curator of the Biennale's Visual Arts Section, less than a year ago. In turn, Henry Meyric Hughes, then director of the British Council's Visual Arts Department, invited the scholar, David Sylvester, to curate the exhibition on its behalf.
Sylvester seized the opportunity with eagerness. For more than forty years he had been musing about an exhibition of Bacon's work in exactly those rooms of the Museo Correr which he will now be using, an enfilade of ten small chambers illuminated by bright Italian light streaming through side windows from the Piazza di San Marco and incorporating the museum's ballroom in which he is hanging three of the artist's most important triptychs, "Triptych inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus" (1981), "Study for Self-Portrait Triptych" (1985-86), and "Second Version of Triptych 1944" (1988) which Bacon presented to the Tate Gallery shortly before his death in 1992.
Around them will be grouped an abbreviated chronological survey, comprising five further triptychs, including "Three Studies for a Crucifixion" (1962), loaned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the shocking and deeply personal "Triptych May-June 1973", as well as twenty-four single canvases. Interestingly, three of those pictures, including "Figure in a landscape" (1945), the earliest work in this exhibition, were shown at the Venice Biennale in 1954, when Bacon represented Britain along with Lucian Freud and Ben Nicholson.
At such short notice, loans of Bacon's most important pictures could never have been secured without Sylvester's involvement. Although he was not able to borrow "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion" (1944) and "Painting 1946" which the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, respectively, now regard as too fragile to permit to travel, he has, otherwise, created an exhibition which will show the artist in all his variety and at the peak of his powers.
In that sense, it will be a rather different occasion to the recent exhibition in Lugano (see The Art Newspaper, No. 26, March 1993, p.10) which concentrated on curiosities and less familiar works.
The exhibition catalogue contains an essay by Sylvester who has, surprisingly, never previously published his opinions about the painter, although he conducted those critical interviews with Bacon, upon which so many perceptions of the man and his art are based, in 1975.