Tate St Ives Gallery 5
3 February – 13 May 2007
This exhibition at Tate St Ives will examine Francis Bacon’s work of 1957–62. At the heart of this period is the time Bacon spent in St Ives between September 1959 and January 1960 and the works he painted there for his first show with Marlborough, London Fine Art, which opened in March 1960.
The exhibition will bring back together a number of the works Bacon painted while he was using No.3 Porthmeor Studios, St Ives and contextualise them with a small group of paintings and drawings made between 1957 and 1962, as well as some unfinished fragments abandoned by Bacon when he left St Ives which offer a unique insight into his working process. The period between 1957 and 1962 was an important transitional phase for Bacon. It is announced by his series of paintings of Van Gogh – which signal his emergence from the ‘dark cavern’ of his earlier period – and concluded by his Tate Gallery retrospective in 1962, for which he painted the first of his great mature triptychs, the extraordinary Three Studies for a Crucifixion 1962 (Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York). During this period Bacon experimented with colour and paint handling, and embarked on a radical re-assessment of how the human figure might be located in space on the canvas. He was familiar with recent American abstract painting and had extended contact with artists such as Patrick Heron during his time in St Ives. Despite his dismissal of abstraction as ‘decoration’ Bacon was aware of contemporary debates regarding the spatial qualities of colour and the use of shallow pictorial space, as seen in the work of artists such as Rothko and Heron. These ideas are reflected in his own work of this time.
The works of 1957–62 are often characterised as a blip in Bacon’s career and until recently have been given little critical attention. Writer David Sylvester described Bacon as being ‘lost’ at this time and invariably excluded works of this period from the Bacon exhibitions he selected. In fact the paintings of this period are of great interest and importance, and are crucial to Bacon’s later development. They function as a kind of hinge between the works of the late 1940s to mid-1950s, with which Bacon made his reputation, and the great works that follow. This exhibition presents an opportunity to examine this key stage in Bacon’s development in detail.
Francis Bacon was born in 1909 in Dublin, of English parents. He spent several years in Berlin and Paris in the late 1920s before settling in London. Self-taught, he began to paint about 1928, working slowly and intermittently for many years and destroying most of his early works. His paintings were rarely exhibited and very little known until after the war when, with the exhibition of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944 (Tate, London), he simultaneously achieved widespread critical acclaim and notoriety. Bacon was the subject of major retrospectives at the Tate Gallery (1962 and 1985), Grand Palais, Paris (1971), MoMA, New York (1990) and Centre Pompidou, Paris (1996). He died in 1992.