Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon’s paintings of Van Gogh gather in Arles

Fondation Vincent van Gogh assembles the surviving paintings in this series

Between 1951 and 1956 Francis Bacon created a series of paintings in homage to Van Gogh’s “The painter on the road to Tarascon”, which was destroyed in World War II and only survives via reproduction. Painted in 1888, it shows Van Gogh carrying his easel and paints along a road through bright yellow and green fields, strong sunlight casting a black shadow of his figure. Bacon was so inspired that he walked along the road, near Arles in the south of France, himself. The eleven paintings that he created as a result were exhibited in 1957 at the Hanover Gallery in London and then dispersed to private collectors and museums. In 1985, Yollande Clergue, director of the Fondation Van Gogh in Arles, asked Bacon to paint one more picture of Van Gogh in Arles to celebrate the opening of the Van Gogh Foundation there in 1988. Bacon agreed with the proviso that the finished painting should never leave Arles; it never has, but now the other eleven paintings in the series have been brought to Arles (until 30 September). Despite the brilliance of colour and light in the south of France, Bacon’s interpretations are notably darker and more despondent than Van Gogh’s: the artist’s face has become a dark patch, the shadows more prominent. An exhibition of photographs of Bacon accompanies the show.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 128 September 2002