Remaking Bacon -- Francis Bacon by John Russell / Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times by Andrew Sinclair / Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self by Ernst Van Alphen

By Zervigon, Andres Mario | Art Journal, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Remaking Bacon -- Francis Bacon by John Russell / Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times by Andrew Sinclair / Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self by Ernst Van Alphen


Zervigon, Andres Mario, Art Journal


John Russell. Francis Bacon. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. 192 pp.; 37 color ills., 138 b/w. $11.95 paper

Andrew Sinclair. Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times. New York: Crown, 1993. 368 pp.; 10 color ills., 52 b/w $30.00

Ernst van Alphen. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. 208 pp.; 15 color ills., 108 b/w. $39.95

A large literary corpus has arisen around Francis Bacon reflecting in its size the consistent popularity of the artist we well as the strong impact of his paintings. Despite its size, the literary corpus on Bacon can be broken down into two approaches with one mostly focusing on the form Bacon's art takes (Russell) and the other focusing on the artist's biography (Sinclair). A third approach that has arisen recently, however, deploys theoretical concepts new to art history in an effort to understand the art's content and effect (van Alphen). The three books under review represent these different approaches, as well as a broader evolutionary process in art history that greatly expands the limits of what material is admissible and relevant, especially in terms of sexuality and gender.

The literary corpus on Bacon charts this evolution particularly well. Perhaps the excess seen in his paintings has discouraged commentators from breaking with the reigning critical and art historical orthodoxy. Their writing generally shows a need to establish control in the face of art that seems out of control. Considering the context of Bacon's initial success, this restraint is quite predictable. In an era dominated by abstraction and formalist criticism, Bacon's beaten bodies and blood-filled beds introduced a content that few people wished to discuss (as seen in Three Studies for a Crucifixion, fig. 1). (Figure 1 omitted) The result has been writing that analyzes Bacon in formalist terms and politely omits the erotic and violent elements that threaten to overwhelm his art. Only in the realm of biography have these issues arisen, but their connection to his art has been kept carefully vague. This effort to control Bacon's art, or at least to control its reception, renders the extreme praise for his paintings strangely baseless, but such a control conforms to the restrictions imposed by a once stodgy art history.(1) As the discipline has broadened, so has the willingness to discuss the sexuality and violence that in the past appeared too powerful a topic to broach. Now we can admit that the enthusiasm for this art may be related to is the sexual violence that reviewers resisted discussing for so long.

In coming to terms with the critical silence that surrounds Bacon's art, one must confess that his painting is difficult to decipher. Though its figurative realism promises a legibility denied by abstract painting, its lack of clear setting or narrative disrupts the familiarity that the figures might otherwise provide. Furthermore, the violence these figures suffer can be attributed to no agent, while the sterility they occupy robs them of context. The vehicles of meaning that produce such clarity in Leon Golub's Mercenary series, for example, are rarely present in the work of Bacon. With this in mind, it is interesting to see how reviewers cope with Bacon's work when its sexual violence is overwhelming and the evidence otherwise assisting interpretation is limited.

John Russell's book, revised for the third time in 1993, continues to pursue a largely formalist approach to Bacon's painting, taking as its focus the artist's handling of paint. The result is a critical assessment of Bacon's entire oeuvre where works demonstrating less painterly skills are judged to be works of lesser quality. Russell's formal critique is a restrictive approach to painting in which the content is responsible for much of the overall impact, but his attention to quality offers sobriety to the praise-heavy world of Bacon studies. Perhaps because of this more tempered treatment, his book has been a standard text on Bacon since its first publication in 1971.

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

Remaking Bacon -- Francis Bacon by John Russell / Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times by Andrew Sinclair / Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self by Ernst Van Alphen
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.