In this month’s Catalogue Raisonné Focus, we are spotlighting Francis Bacon’s Self-Portrait, 1956, the first painting that Bacon acknowledged as such.
David Sylvester described Self-Portrait, 1956 as signalling the end of Bacon’s ‘involvement in a tonal language of smudged forms and limited colour’ [Sylvester, 2000, p. 81]. This shift away from tonal painting was ‘definitively underlined by Figure in Mountain Landscape, 1956’, a painting where there is ‘no distinction between figure and landscape’.
Excerpts: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 474.
The Dutch Master Rembrandt provided both inspiration and a concrete model for Bacon’s own take on self-portraits [Ibid]. ‘I think that’s probably what is so haunting about the small German book where they have put all the Rembrandt self-portraits together, from a young man to the very end of his life,’ Bacon explained, ‘and it’s such a remarkable thing, turning page after page to see these things of the man, absolutely different from beginning to end.’ [Sylvester, 2000, p.242.]
As Martin Harrison pointed out, with Bacon’s own self-portraits, beginning with Self-Portrait, 1956, to his last, unfinished, painting ‘Self-Portrait’, 1991 – 92, Bacon embarked on a similar mission to trace his own changing appearance and the passage of time. [Harrison, 2011, p.42.]
Sylvester also described Self-Portrait, 1956 as ‘Quasimodo-like’, and Bacon may have based his self-image on the disfigured character as portrayed by Charles Laughton in William Dieterle’s film, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1939. Quasimodo had some redeeming traits, but Bacon cast the deformed portrayal of his own head in a diabolical mode.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016) p. 474.
Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné can be purchased through our distributor’s website.