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Francis Bacon – Figure in Movement

November 21, 2010 Art, Contemporary No Comments

this gem, from one of my favorite dead artists, Francis Bacon, recently sold at Sotheby’s for $14, 082,500 (includes buyer’s premium). what’s really fascinating of this painting is its provenance – Bacon gave this painting to his personal doctor.

Executed in 1985, it’s a good size at 78.25 x 58.25 inches.

Copy + Paste from Sotheby’s:

In the catalogue to the spectacular retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1985, the museum’s renowned director Alan Bowness described the art of Francis Bacon thus: “His own work sets the standard for our time, for he is surely the greatest living painter; no artist in our century has presented the human predicament with such insight and feeling….for Bacon, the virtues of truth and honesty transcend the tasteful. They give to his paintings a terrible beauty that has placed them among the most memorable images in the entire history of art” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985, p. 7). Executed in this very year, Figure in Movement represents physical testament to this acclamation. Exhibiting the most striking composition, a magnificent array of brushwork
and a supremely arresting palette, this is a formidable portrayal of the human animal that epitomises the full gamut of Bacon’s artistic genius. Indeed, the inimitable traits of his method, specifically the intense combination of brilliant cadmium orange with depthless black, directly compare with the masterpieces Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944 (Tate Britain, London) and Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).

Gifted by the artist to his physician Dr. Paul Brass, who followed his father Dr. Stanley Brass as Bacon’s personal doctor and with whom Bacon maintained a close bond until his death in 1992, Figure in Movement possesses an exceptional provenance. The terms of its ownership vividly reflect its importance to Bacon: not only was Dr. Brass a most trusted friend, but when he was first offered a choice of painting and initially suggested another work, the artist instead recommended Figure in Movement, assuring his doctor that it was a superior painting. Eminently regarded through its distinguished exhibition history in major shows in Moscow, Paris, London and The Hague, as well as its long-term loan to the Tate; this marks the historic occasion of its first appearance to market.

Foremost among Bacon’s innermost clique in 1985 was John Edwards, a handsome East-Ender and the artist’s closest companion at this time. Edwards wrote, “it was a perfect relationship. I was never Francis’ lover, but I loved him as the best friend a man could have. He was fond of me like a son” (Exh. Cat., New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1998, p. 7) and Dr. Brass has also stated: “I never heard Francis say a bad word about John. He said to me…’I think of John like a son. He’s a son to me really'” (interviewed for Bacon’s Arena, directed by Adam Low, produced by Anthony Wall, BBC Arena and The Estate of Francis Bacon, 2005). The parity between Edwards and the present physiognomy is clear: the long jaw-line, the geometries of the eye, nose and mouth and the jet-black hairline. However, Bacon never painted his friend from life and the naked torso of this body is adapted from photos of other models, notably the infamous shots of George Dyer in his underwear taken 20 years earlier. Thus, Figure in Movement conflates two of the most important figures in the artist’s life. Significantly, Bacon inserts this being, an amalgamation of that which he held most dear, onto an exposed dais that is a crucible of existential isolation: the natural environment of his extraordinary artistic and philosophical innovation.

While the figure twists and writhes as if to struggle free of the canvas, it is contained within indications of rigid cricket pads. The sport was a subject of fascination for the artist’s later career. A photograph of source material littering his studio floor reveals the intriguing arrangement of a copy of Physique Pictorial lying on top of England cricketer David Gower’s book With Time to Spare, so that the legs of a brooding male bodybuilder join up with the cricket pads of a batsman underneath. This fusion of diametrically opposed images is archetypal of Bacon’s ability to meld starkly eclectic themes to portray the chaos of human existence, and provides apt parallel with Figure
in Movement. Bacon draws on his knowledge of art historical precedent, such as the incomparable figural studies of Michelangelo. He accelerates the effects of light and shadow, plunging form in and out of darkness so that several passages of light flow in simultaneous chorus. Chiaroscuro rhythms of anatomic gesture negotiate between
material and void, while the figure’s left leg dissolves in the black ether of the platform.

More than any other artist of the 20th Century, Bacon held a mirror to the nature of the Human Condition, and Figure in Movement provides the perfect reflection of what he saw. He was fascinated by the postwar works of the French existentialists Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir, and their themes of alienation, imprisonment and the absurd. The most important actors of Bacon’s canon, typified by this figure, crystallise this entire philosophical enquiry, as they let go of the sureties of the past and stand on the threshold of an unknowable future.

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