Study after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X| Francis Bacon | 1949
“The man who paints those dreadful figures…”
That’s how Margaret Thatcher, with an incredible artistic sensibility, defined the British Francis Bacon.
The well-read reader of the blog would notice the name, because today’s artist is a descendant of the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, father of the empiricist school. However, the painter never mentioned his roots because he preferred to be known as an outcast that built his own destiny.
At 16, his father discovers him using female underwear in front of a mirror. There, Francis yells at him father that he is homosexual and, as a result, he gets kicked out of his parent’s house. This way he begins his path apart from his family.
He starts taking drawing lessons as a hobby while he survived by petty thefts. After some time, he attends to a couple of exhibitions and decides to devote himself more seriously to art, so he starts experimenting with oils and finishes lots of paintings. But, being 35, frustrated for not achieving any kind of acknowledgement, he destroys almost all his paintings.
A year later, he finishes with the painting called Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, which instantly is acclaimed by critics and allows him to devote himself entirely to painting.
In 1949 begins Bacon’s mature work, acknowledged for the semi abstract figures painted in what seems to be some kind of cages; over an indistinct background, with no details. Particularly in his Blue series, he follows this formula; but he restricts himself to use only cold colors á la Picasso.
Study after Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X belongs to this series. Here Bacon offers some kind of a tribute to the work of the Spanish painter, considered to be one of the most important portraits of all time. Such was the effect of this painting in Bacon that he painted more than 40 studies of this work.
In that time, Velazquez’ work caused some fuzz because, in the opinion of the pope himself, the portrait was “too real”, it is that, instead of painting some idealized image as usual, Velazquez put in the canvas a very serious character with his beard all messed up. But, as we can see, Bacon goes further. Much further…
He offers a terrifying image of a character supposedly known for his compassion and kindness on earth. While Velazquez’ pope is dense; the one from Bacon is transparent, almost like a ghost. The lack of hair, the black eyes, the dark color of his clothing and the scream, give him a zombie or undead-like appearance. Is surprising, however, that the vertical stripes that cross the entire figure are interrupted under the pope waist. Maybe this indicates something, but we don’t know.
Bacon himself is going to say that he has no special animosity against the popes or clerical authorities; and that he only based in Velazquez’ painting because he liked it and wanted to paint it with different colors… but I don’t think this is real.
Having said that, I just want to clarify that I love this painting. Oh yeah.