Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus is being offered for auction at Sotheby’s New York on the 13th May 2020, making this an apt time to give a more detailed view of the painting’s history and iconography.
Inspired by Aeschylus’s trilogy of Greek tragedies dating to the 5th century BCE, the triptych stands as one of the most ambitious, enigmatic and important works of Bacon’s oeuvre. The work is one of 28 large format triptychs that Bacon produced between 1962 and 1991 standing at 198cm tall.
In the left panel is a half-opened door through which one can see an empty chair in the darkness. The middle panel of the triptych shows a box-shaped structure supporting a mutilated body, whose spine is exposed. Finally, on the right panel there is a linear structure containing a figure whose anatomy resembles that of a partially transparent man, this figure’s shadow appears to be flowing in/out under the door.
In Volume IV of Catalogue Raisonné, 2016 Martin Harrison, FSA discusses the theme of the painting:
“Although Bacon frequently cited Aeschylus as an inspiration, this was the only instance where the Greek dramatist was adverted to in the title of a painting. Bacon explained to Michel Leiris, in attempting to define realism: ‘I could not paint Agamemnon, Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting... Therefore I tried to create and image of the effect it produced inside me.’ Thus, the real subject of the triptych is Tragedy.”
Inspired by Oresteia of Aeschylus is being offered for auction at Sotheby’s New York on the 13th May 2020. For more information, visit the Sotheby’s website.
Read the painting’s full exhibition history and selected bibliography here.