The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents “Francis Bacon: From Picasso to Velázquez“, an exhibition of some 80 works including some of the most important and yet least exhibited paintings by this British artist born in Ireland, alongside the works of the classic masters from French and Spanish culture. Portraits, nudes, landscapes, bullfighting… the exhibition offers a new perspective on Bacon’s oeuvre by highlighting the influences exerted on his art.
Transgressive in both his life and art, Bacon broke down many barriers that were deeply entrenched at the time, placing human beings in front of a mirror in which we could see ourselves in a raw, violent way. Bacon’s nudes tend to feature isolated figures in everyday poses which the painter transformed by twisting their bodies into almost animal-like shapes, thus reinventing the portrait.
Francis Bacon was a fervent francophile. He was an avid consumer of French literature by authors like Racine, Balzac, Baudelaire and Proust and passionate about the art of Picasso and Van Gogh, and the painters who preceded them like Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Matisse. As an adolescent, he discovered Nicolas Poussin’s “Massacre of the Innocents“ (1628–29) near Chantilly, and in 1927 he had a revelatory encounter with Picasso’s work when he visited the exhibition “Cent dessins par Picasso” in the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris, which, in fact, spurred him to decide to embark on his career as a painter.
After his initial contact with Picasso’s oeuvre in the 1920s and 1930s, the influence of Spanish culture on Bacon´s art is most obvious in his obsession with the portrait of “Pope Innocent X“ that Velázquez painted in 1650, which would serve as Bacon’s inspiration for more than 50 works. In addition to Velázquez, he was also fascinated by other classic Spanish painters such as Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya, whose paintings he fervently admired at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, a museum he asked to visit alone just a few years before his death after seeing the Velázquez retrospective held there in 1990.