Self-Preoccupied and Revelatory, Francis Bacon Faced Middle England with a Sensibility It Could Barely Tolerate. This Is Raw, Embarrassing, Nihilistic

By Meades, Jonathan | New Statesman (1996), February 6, 1998 | Go to article overview

Self-Preoccupied and Revelatory, Francis Bacon Faced Middle England with a Sensibility It Could Barely Tolerate. This Is Raw, Embarrassing, Nihilistic


Meades, Jonathan, New Statesman (1996)


Francis Bacon was sui generis. He didn't even have precursors in the Borgesian sense of the word - meaning precursors who were "created" by him, whose work is amended and endowed with previously unperceived meaning because of what it has inadvertently engendered. He does not cause us to scrutinise Velazquez in a new light because the gap between Bacon and Velazquez is chasmic. Bacon didn't steal the way great artists are supposed to. He took and joyrode and trashed. He was indifferent to the status of his sources: they might be works of the first magnitude, such as Velazquez's Pope Innocent X, or they might be medical illustrations. They were reduced to mere catalysts.

Nor did Bacon have successors. There was no school of Bacon. He fomented no fashion, suffered no disciples, occasioned no print other than his own, went against the grain. He was a figurative dissenter at the height of his powers during the hegemony of abstraction (which he regarded, scornfully, as mere pattern-making). He was just about inimitable.

This is a peculiar and rare situation, which affects Bacon's posthumous reputation just as it affected his reputation while alive. The history of painting and indeed of all creative endeavour is so lopsidedly biased towards -isms, movements, bogus groupings and distantly perceived alliances, that great originals are not so much overlooked as demonstratively sidelined. They have no place in the pageant of progress and continuous development. They inhabit culs-de-sac of their own making whence they are occasionally dragged to join a platoon of convenience, such as the School of London, which even by the extravagant standards of critical packaging is spectacularly spurious. Nabokov's dictum that there is only one school, the school of talent, is unexceptionable yet unheeded.

Bacon came from nowhere and led nowhere; indeed he might have elected to take such a course. His boasts of bibulous gregariousness and his aptitude for acquaintanceship hardly disguise his solitariness nor his concomitant lack of solidarity with other painters. He painted what he had to paint, what chose him. More wittingly, he painted what other painters didn't. He disliked the illustrative, the "literary" and the narrative as much as he did abstraction. It was the gap between these poles that he occupied.

Bacon was, however, part of a tradition of representational experiment and of painting as something more than drawing by other means. He was even perhaps the culmination of that tradition, the last great modern painter, a manipulator of marks and thence of sentience, of visceral and dorsal antennae. He addressed the core questions of human existence with a grotesque wit and a high seriousness that are entirely atypical of English practice.

Wilde's contention that "English art is a meaningless expression. One might just as well talk of English mathematics" is neat but wrong. English art - I know, there are exceptions - has tended towards the decoratively precise, the fastidious, modest, untroublingly pretty, above all towards the slight. It is not for nothing that the English medium was watercolour, with its unrivalled capacity for suggesting no colour.

Bacon did more than fling a pot of paint in the public's face. Technique, subject, sensibility: they may not have been deliberately gauged to offend but they most surely did offend and continue to offend to this day. A former editor of the New Statesman, the Sunday watercolourist Paul Johnson, is particularly sensitive to Bacon's buggering, blasphemous tours de force.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Self-Preoccupied and Revelatory, Francis Bacon Faced Middle England with a Sensibility It Could Barely Tolerate. This Is Raw, Embarrassing, Nihilistic
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.