Francis Bacon’s Triptych

Simeran Maxwell examines the National Gallery’s Francis Bacon painting ‘Triptych’ 1970, an early acquisition for the Gallery.

British artist Francis Bacon was famous for his raw, dark and often violent canvases. By appropriating classical art and myths, and later other favourite literary sources, he presents a polarising view of the twentieth century. His works capture the dualities of life and death and beauty and ugliness as well as notions of civilisation and barbarism. During the 1970s, Bacon undertook a group of important large figurative paintings. These tripart canvases, a format he adopted early in the 1940s, demonstrate his interest in working in series. Bacon said, ‘I see images in series’, and, ‘I suppose I could go long beyond the triptych and do five or six together, but I find the triptych is a more balanced unit’.

Francis Bacon, ‘Triptych’, 1970, purchased 1973, © Francis Bacon. DACS/Copyright Agency

‘I see images in series. I suppose I could go long beyond the triptych and do five or six together, but I find the triptych is a more balanced unit’.

On the left and right panels of his 1970 painting Triptych you’ll see Bacon’s lover and muse George Dyer, who took his own life on the eve of Bacon’s first Parisian retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. Both figures are seated in hammocks derived from Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic plate ‘Woman in a swing’ from Animal locomotion, 1887. Bacon worked from photographs and memory, rather than from life, preferring to place a ‘lens’ between himself and the world. Figures are distorted, positioned in ill-defined spaces and simultaneously evoke the ambiguity of dreams and the sharp focus of conflict and tension. Audiences can see this at once erotic and dangerous work in the Gallery’s International galleries on level 2.

Simeran Maxwell is the Curator of Exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia.

This interview was first published in the Winter 2019 edition of Artonview. Artonview is the National Gallery’s Member’s magazine. Become a Member nga.gov.au/members

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