Francis Bacon: Man and Beast ★★★★★ Royal Academy of Arts | Jan 29 - Apr 17, 2022


This is a brilliantly curated show that should satisfy those already fascinated by Bacon's work while convincing others of his dark genius. It is not an easy exhibition, but the painter's skill may offer relief from his often disturbing subject matter. This is an artist who forces us to face the raw, unremitting physicality of human existence. His biomorphs are human/animal forms that insist the viewer confront a vulnerable and visceral reality, and this truth is often made all the more shocking by the juxtaposition of commonplace objects from daily life. Bacon's fascination with dogs and the fusion of the wild and the domesticated echoes his view of humanity, the bestial beneath the superficially civilised. His fascination with Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X explores this dark dichotomy as do his works focussed on bullfighting. Beneath the pomp and apparent artistry is the grotesque truth. Bacon does not dress up animality, brutality or sexuality but celebrates them in strong colours and vivid representation. However, even as the viewer may react in shock, there is always a hint of bars, cages or circumscribing lines and shapes in the work. The darkness never runs completely rampant, and one might perceive somewhat reassuring restraints or limits. Indeed, Bacon's powerful technique both curbs and extends his hypnotic vision. This is a not-to-be-missed experience of one of Britain's most important artists.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Francis Bacon, Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

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