How Did Velázquez, Rembrandt, and Picasso Influence Francis Bacon?

Francis Bacon, Businessman I (1952). Photo: Courtesy of Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017 via Tate.org
Francis Bacon, Businessman I (1952). Photo: Courtesy of Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017 via Tate.org

Masterpieces from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg are being shown for the first time in the UK as part of the exhibition “Francis Bacon and the Masters,” at the Sainsbury Center in Norwich.

The exhibition, which opened on Saturday, explores the pervasive influence that Pablo Picasso, Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt, Auguste Rodin, Titian, and Henri Matisse had on the painting of Francis Bacon.

Some of the pieces loaned by the Hermitage include Paul Cézanne’s Self-Portrait in a Cap (c. 1873), Velázquez’s Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares (c.1638), and Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Old Woman (1654).

The exhibition has, in fact, toured to Norwich from the State Hermitage Museum itself, where it was launched last December as part of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the Russian museum.

However, with a total of 100 artworks, influences on Bacon are traced even farther back in history: the canvases of the Irish painter are displayed in dialogue with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antique sculpture.

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, founders of the Sainsbury Center, were early champions of Bacon’s work, purchasing Study of a Nude as early as 1953. They went on to commission their portraits from him.

The exhibition features 13 works by Bacon from the Sainbury’s collection, along with a further 17 works loaned from private and public collections from across Britain and Ireland.

“Francis Bacon and the Masters” follows the curatorial trend of displaying modern and contemporary painters alongside their historical influences (see The Shock of the Old in the Prado’s “El Greco and Modern Painting” and El Greco, Rubens, and Why We Should Stop Re-Inventing Old Masters).

“Francis Bacon and the Masters” is on view at the Sainsbury Center, Norwich, from April 18 to July 26.


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