Bacon and his inspiration at the Hermitage

See the conversation in Norwich exhibition next Spring


Despite diplomatic tensions between the UK and Russia over Ukraine, a major Bacon exhibition is going ahead, opening in St Petersburg and coming to Norwich next spring. The idea of the guest curator, Thierry Morel, is to present works by Bacon along with paintings (and a few sculptures) from the Hermitage by artists admired by the British master. The two sets of works will not be right next to each other; the related works will hang on separate walls from the Bacons. “We want to look at how Bacon looked at the art of the past, and how it inspired him and fuelled his creative energy,” Morel says.

The core works by Bacon will be all 13 of his paintings from the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, but there will be 15 more from other collections in the British Isles. Dublin City Gallery (Hugh Lane) will also be lending a wide range of documentary material from Bacon’s studio, including books, reproductions and correspondence.

From the Hermitage collection, Morel has selected 49 works by artists that inspired Bacon—including Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Rodin, Picasso and Matisse. Interestingly, Bacon was never particularly keen to see the original paintings, but took inspiration from reproductions. In a few cases, such as with Velázquez and Van Gogh, there are very direct relationships between Bacon’s paintings and those of earlier masters. To demonstrate the Velázquez link, the Hermitage is borrowing the Spanish artist’s Study for a Portrait of Innocent X, 1650, from Apsley House in London, to compare it with Bacon’s Study for Imaginary Portrait of Pope Pius XII, 1955, from the Sainsbury Centre. But in most cases, the links between Bacon’s own work and the artists he admired are much more subtle.

• Francis Bacon: Creating the Art, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 7 December-8 March 2015; Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, 18 April-26 July 2015