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Full Overview of Francis Bacon's Artistic Career at Palazzo Reale in Milan
Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Studies from the Human Body (1975). oil on canvas; 200x150 cm. Private Collection.

MILAN.- Francis Bacon is unanimously considered the last of the great 20th century masters, but his works have not been exhibited in Italy since 1993. Nonetheless, he was so accomplished at representing the universal unrest of his century that a wide-ranging public recognises and appreciates his work.

The exhibition shows a collection of his works and its completeness and precision put it in the same light as other important international tributes to Francis Bacon. It covers the key phases of this great painter’s exploration of his art, and provides an overall interpretation of his artistic career.

The core of the exhibition provides for the selection of over one hundred works, almost all still unknown in Italy, including eighty-two paintings and about fifteen drawings, plus as many objects which are part of the archive material carrying the artist’s mark. This is a full overview of his artistic career, ranging from the earliest paintings dating back to the ‘30s, revealing how Bacon was still in search of his personal language but was already attracted by the deformation and ambiguity of shapes, up to the last great triptychs, especially those dedicated to his partner John Edwards, through which the artist’s existential suffering appears to be in sight of a hard-fought serenity.

A room of the Royal Palace presents, for the first time in Italy, the photographic reproduction of Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London. In 1998, John Edwards, the artist’s only heir, decided to donate the studio to the Hugh Lane City Gallery in Dublin, where, after three years spent cataloguing the contents, this was entirely transferred and opened to the public in 2001. The studio is the most intimate microcosm where Bacon lived between 1961 and 1992, where he kept all his colours and canvases, photographs and objects, books, papers, sketches and notes, anything that could be a source of inspiration for him, in a chaotic mix typical of a “damned” artist.

The exhibition opens with a set of important works on paper, which were only found after the artist’s death and have never been displayed in Italy before. These drawings provide new crucial indications for understanding Bacon’s creative development, which has not yet been deeply investigated and which, until a few years ago, was deemed to be independent of any kind or preparatory work or preliminary sketch.

The exhibition continues with the paintings dating back to the years after the Second World War, when Bacon made a name for himself at an international level thanks to the Studies for figures (1945-1946), and above all to his Heads (1949), which, with their dramatic features, anticipate one of the artist’s most famous and fascinating themes: the one devoted to popes.

Bacon regarded Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X one of the major paintings in history and was obsessed with its perfection. The exhibition includes a few works on this theme, which the artist dealt with about fifteen times at least, accomplishing some of the absolute masterpieces of modern art and causing the pope’s figure to rise to a metaphor for human condition, torn between desperation and madness: the most extraordinary piece is Pope I (1951) from the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Special care is then given to documenting Bacon’s activity in the ‘50s, which was devoted to portraits: incorporeal and ghostly figures, silvery and blurred faces and bodies disappearing into ink-black darkness.

During the following decade, his characters started appearing in a more definite and lit space. These are no longer vague and undistinguished presences, but solid figures with a specific volume, also displaying greater expressiveness, as with the portraits of dear friends such as Henrietta Moraes, Isabel Rawsthorne, his beloved George Dyer or the great painter Lucian Freud, for whom Bacon felt friendship and respect.

In the great triptychs of the ‘70s, his attention for individual subjects had become somewhat exasperating. His journey within individuals’ inner life and at the same time within the current reality of a devastated society can be perceived in his masterpieces through anonymous figures screaming from their cages, through the sensuality and eroticism he displays in his provocative and exhibitory manner, through a feel for death and a voluptuous liveliness. Among the various examples included in the exhibition, we wish to recall Three Studies of the Male Back from Behind from Kunsthaus in Zurich and Triptych from the Canberra National Gallery, in Australia.

Lastly, his later years are examined, when the furious and visionary features, typical of his works from the ‘60s and ’70s, is mitigated by a less passionate but not less realistic and lucid approach. Bacon’s work underwent a process causing him to focus on the bare essentials of a story, which in some cases is extreme and is voiced through just a few splashes of colour clotted on a neutral background.
The works come from the most important Museums and collections worldwide, and in special way from France, Belgium, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Finland, Israel, the U.S.A., Venezuela, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Taiwan.

Because of the way it has been conceived, this exhibition represents a unique opportunity to get to know Francis Bacon’s production: it allows an overall approach to his artistic development, which covers more than half a century, by revealing, through mostly new material, special and absolutely original aspects of his creativity.

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