Francis Bacon

Centre Pompidou

On entering this major Francis Bacon retrospective, curated by David Sylvester one was immediately confronted by the memorably horrific Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. These weird sisters, phallic in inspiration, ambiguously maleficent in pose and identity, seem to have been inspired by the vengeful Eumenides who, in Aeschylus’ drama, pursued Orestes after Athens lost the Peloponnesian war. Writhing before a stark orange background, mouths either hardly visible or wide open in a vagina dentata–esque howl, these creatures are nevertheless oddly domesticated, more demons of the middle-class parlor than mourners at a crucifixion. With its obvious references to World War II, this triptych initiates the thematic and formal intensities that were to mark Bacon’s career as a whole; it was the work he invariably chose to inaugurate all his retrospectives after 1962.


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