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Francis Bacon

Pompidou Bacon survey makes its way to Munich

David Sylvester’s comprehensive survey includes works which Bacon himself tried to destroy

The current survey of Francis Bacon’s paintings, curated by David Sylvester and already shown with great success at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (see The Art Newspaper No.60, June 1996, p.7), is opening at its second and final venue, the Haus der Kunst, Munich (until 26 January 1997). For this new occasion, there are ten substitutions so that the exhibition will have a slightly different personality, but it remains the most comprehensive study of the artist’s work to have been undertaken in eleven years and displays seventy-nine paintings, including seventeen large and six small triptychs, as well as five preparatory drawings in ink or crayon, the existence of which Bacon had strenuously denied.

Another unprecedented curatorial decision is the inclusion of three surviving oil compositions and two gouache studies dating from 1933-36, a period which the artist had attempted to eradicate from his biography, but which forms a fascinating and distinctive preface to his mature career.

The most significant additions to the second leg of the exhibition are: “Study for portrait of Van Gogh VI” (ex-catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain), which will be united with version III of the same series (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden); “Three studies of figures on a bed” (cat.64, private collection); and a second large triptych, “Crucifixion” (cat.43, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich), which includes, in its right wing, the haunting detail of a naked figure wearing a swastika armband. This single act of pictorial flamboyance underlines the delicious paradox of presenting Bacon’s work in the halls formerly reserved for the National Socialist art favoured by Hitler and his colleagues. For Bacon was attracted to the glamour of violence as it was perpetrated by the Nazi party and yet would have been persecuted as a prime exponent of the “Entartete Kunst” which Hitler sought to discredit in the infamous exhibition of degenerate art staged in Munich in 1937.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Bacon for the Bavarians'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 64 November 1996