Books: Bringing Home the Francis; Francis Bacon's Studio by Margarita Cappock: Merrell (Pounds 35). the Art of Wonder, a History of Seeing by Julian Spalding, Prestel Pounds 18.99

The Birmingham Post (England), November 26, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Books: Bringing Home the Francis; Francis Bacon's Studio by Margarita Cappock: Merrell (Pounds 35). the Art of Wonder, a History of Seeing by Julian Spalding, Prestel Pounds 18.99


Byline: Review by Richard Edmonds

Wanderers in cities generally head for the museum if for no other reason than to pick up a few decent postcards and drink a cup of coffee.

If one is feeling vaguely homesick or lazy one is not likely to take on the great masterpieces, since one battle or death scene is enough if one happens to be, for some reason, at less than one's best.

But a bit of uncompelling Boucher, or an undemanding portrait or two is quite different. Your headache seems to go immediately and your mood lifts. But then you come across the tedious civic paintings, dusty, boring landscapes painted a century ago by artists who, over time, have quite lost their impact, obviously worthy painters who are occasionally given a fresh lease of life only in the research theses of diligent art students anxious for a PhD.

Such pictures are nostalgic food for the mind on a humdrum day.

There are dozens of such pictures in the corridors of dozens of museums which themselves represent a kind of necropolis, where the dead are respectfully displayed in flaking frames and allowed to moulder away in peace. And was it not Oscar Wilde who once said that the auctioneer is the only person capable of appreciating all forms of art?

But you may well turn a corner and find yourself confronted suddenly by exciting paintings which can destabilise your sense of comfort, paintings which disturb and worry you and that is all to the good, I am thinking of the harsh nude by, say, Egon Schiele, the non-conformist Austrian genius or, and even more worrying one of Francis Bacon's screaming popes expressing (in the latter case gross nightmarish visions of hell).

Margarita Cappock's remarkable book, littered with Baconian images of violence, deals particularly with the artist's studio - a total tip which, after Bacon's death, was moved in its entirety that is brush by brush, paint tube by paint tube, filthy walls and all to Dublin's City Gallery where the squalor in which Bacon once worked has been lovingly re-assembled.

A heavily cluttered studio obviously contained hidden clues which lay everywhere in the rubble but Cappock claims unlock the secrets of the paintings made between the late 60s until Bacon's death.

Everything seemed to excite him from Olympic swimmers to photographs of the dead in mass graves. Obviously he had a violent nature which he could turn upon his lovers and equally obviously gay iconography played a large part in his paintings of males either wrestling or copulating (Bacon allows the viewer to draw his own conclusions).

In this context you get fingermarked torn-out photographs from books of early Victorian nude photographs taken by the Philadelphian photographer Eardweard Muybridge which form an armature for a figure whose stylised head could well be taken from one of Bacon's own lovers, confirming that photographs were integral to much of Bacon's work.

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Books: Bringing Home the Francis; Francis Bacon's Studio by Margarita Cappock: Merrell (Pounds 35). the Art of Wonder, a History of Seeing by Julian Spalding, Prestel Pounds 18.99
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