This month we take a closer look at Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Michel Leiris, 1976. This painting, along with many other Bacon works, is currently on display at the Bacon - Giacometti exhibition at Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland, until 2 September 2018.
The subject of the painting, Michel Leiris, was an anthropologist, writer and poet and close intellectual friend of Bacon’s. The pair formed a friendship based on mutual respect of the other’s work, with Leiris having written about the artist for a decade before this piece was created. Leiris later produced a richly illustrated monograph on Bacon’s oeuvre and he also translated Bacon’s interviews with David Sylvester into French.
Bacon painted Leiris twice during their friendship and gave both this piece and Study For Portrait (Michel Leiris), 1978 to Leiris and his wife, the gallerist Louise Leiris. Martin Harrison FSA gives insight to Bacon’s view on the piece in Volume IV of Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné 2016:
‘In conversation with David Sylvester, Bacon compared the two Leiris portraits, and his comments are illuminating in regard to the portrait paintings as a whole. He stressed that it would be pointless to make paintings that were mimetic and that instead he hoped to ‘deform people into appearance.’ He believed that this painting, while ’more artificial’ and ‘less literally like him is in fact more poignantly like him’ [Sylvester, pp.146-48].’
Enjoy this piece along with others including Three Studies for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1965, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967, Head VI, 1949, Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981 and Self-Portrait, 1987 at the Bacon - Giacometti exhibition hosted by Fondation Beyeler. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Grenier, Michael Peppiatt and Ulf Küster, and puts two of the most influential 20th century artists together to explore the surprising similarities between them and their representation of the human figure. In addition to the many pieces on display, the final room of the show recreates both artists’ cluttered studios from historic photographs. The studios are brought to life in two full-scale projections across the walls and floors by Christian Borstlap, head of the Amsterdam design studio Part of a Bigger Plan.
For more details of the Bacon works on display, click here.
Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland Present - 2 September 2018
Word Ref: Fondation Beyeler website.
*Please note all details including names, dates and featured works, opening days/hours are subject to change. Ahead of a visiting, we recommend contacting Foundation Beyeler for all confirmation regarding displays.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, FSA. 76-14 Portrait of Michel Leiris, 1976, Catalogue Raisonné Volume VI pages 116-117.
If you’d like to order a copy of the ‘Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné’ please visit Heni Publishing’s website.