According to Anthony Bond, the curatorial director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the curator of the show “Francis Bacon: Five Decades”, the Anglo-Irish artist had “very strong Australian ties”. So it may come as a surprise that this exhibition, organised to mark the 20th anniversary of Bacon’s death, is the artist’s first solo show in Australia. The exhibition features more than 50 paintings, as well as films, photographs and archival material from the artist’s studio.
Although Bacon never visited Australia, his hated father was born in Adelaide. Bacon was encouraged to paint by the New South Wales-born artist Roy de Maistre, and he later influenced the 20th-century Australian artists Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley. The show includes Whiteley’s Francis Bacon, around 1984-89, and photographs of Bacon sitting for the portrait.
The works, which Bond describes as “wild, vivid, sensual”, will be arranged by decade, starting with “nearly all of Bacon’s most important works” from the 1940s. Head II, 1949, on loan from the Ulster Museum in Belfast, is “the only painting on which Bacon worked for months rather than days”, Bond says. “He built up a thick skin of paint like a rhinoceros hide.”
Five monumental paintings include the Tate’s Triptych—August 1972, 1972, which Bacon painted in tribute to his lover George Dyer, a year after the younger man’s death. The 1970s, and Dyer, are also represented by Three Studies of the Male Back, 1970.
More than 70 items from the artist’s studio “show how he altered photographs as part of the transformation to the painted image”, Bond says. A crumpled illustration of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, around 1650, will be on show alongside the work it inspired: Pope I—Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, 1951, on loan from the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.
Lenders include the National Gallery of Australia, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Francis Bacon Estate. Video interviews with Bacon will be shown daily in the gallery’s auditorium, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue. The show’s principal sponsor is Ernst & Young.
• Francis Bacon: Five Decades, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 November-24 February 2013
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Bacon down under'