Bacon’s Frank about Portraiture

Francis Bacon, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (Laughing) (1969) Oil on canvas. Private Collection.

Occasionally an artist's recorded thoughts give hints that their views on portraiture are not conventional. I have quite a collection of them. However someone just sent me this 1971 statement by Francis Bacon in which he completely rejects the standard view still widely held in the art world and beyond.

“One cannot consider therefore that a portrait of any given person is simply that particular person seen through the eyes of the artist. It is rather a combination of that person as seen through the eyes of the artist at a particular time; secondly, it is the artist himself as seen through his own eyes at that particular time; thirdly, it is any human face that has meant something to the artist at any given time.”1

As far as I know, this is as close as any artist has come to admitting verbally that portraits by significant painters are rarely intended as accurate likenesses but are instead a fusion of the artist and sitter. This, I'm also glad to say, is in tune with the basic paradigm proposed by EPPH and more specifically with analyses here of Bacon's own variation on Velazquez's Innocent X and with Velazquez's portraits too. Plus ça change......

1. Francis Bacon, cited in J. Reichardt, “Francis Bacon”, The London Magazine, v.2, June 1962, pp. 40-1

Reader Comments

Francis Bacon has made some of the most lucid and profound statements on the nature of paint and painting.

Rick Rojnic
18 Aug 2014

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