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Francis Bacon’s haunting portraits displayed at MAM

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By Glenn Oviatt

Special to the Tribune

Francis Bacon AM once said, "The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery."

At the Milwaukee Art Museum, the mystery of this remarkable painter no longer hides from the public eye.,”

Francis Bacon once said, "The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery."

At the Milwaukee Art Museum, the mystery of this remarkable painter no longer hides from the public eye.

"Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s" provides unique insight into the inner workings of Bacon's struggles, thoughts and obsessions. Described as violent, grotesque and disturbing, Bacon's works capture the terror and devastation of World War II as well as his own life.

As a young man, Bacon was banished from his household after his father condemned his homosexuality. Bacon left Britain for Berlin and Paris and absorbed himself in a dangerous life of drinking and gambling. In his paintings highlighted by the exhibit, Bacon portrays the imperfections and brokenness of humanity.

Opening the exhibit is "Figure Study II," a 1945 painting of an open-mouthed face masked in the shadow of an umbrella next to a plant. Like most of the work throughout the rest of the exhibit, "Figure Study II" is haunting and provocative. Nearly all the faces in Bacon's artwork are smeared, obscured or distorted in some way, especially the portraits of his friends and lovers.

Through these warped faces, Bacon's artwork unmasks the strange beauty of humanity's troubles and blemishes. Refusing to hide reality as he experienced it, Bacon invites the viewer to look past the exterior of his subjects and peer into his view of the world.

Many of the faces include wide and screaming mouths, like the famous portraits Bacon based on Diego Velazquez's "Portrait of Pope Innocent X." The exhibit highlights Francis Bacon at the pinnacle of his creativity and mystery, showing his progression as an artist from the natural portraits of his friend Lucian Freud in 1951 to the wild disfigurations of his closest friends in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Included are paintings of menacing dogs, ghostly owls and other obsessions and focal points in Bacon's mind. Perhaps the most prominent of Bacon's obsessions was his reflection of life through his artwork.

This exhibit is proof of Bacon's success as an artist, because, although frightening and confusing at times, it reveals this layer of Francis Bacon's mystery while deepening the significance and intrigue of his work.

"Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s" will be on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum through April 15.

Student admission tickets are $10 with an ID presented. Call 414-224-3200 for more information or visit www.mam.org.

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