11 september 2019 – 20 january 2020
galerie 2, level 6
After the exhibitions showcasing Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, André Derain and Henri Matisse,
the Centre Pompidou continues its re-examination of key 20th century works by devoting a major
exhibition to Francis Bacon. The last major French exhibition of this artist’s work was held in 1996
at the Centre Pompidou. More than twenty years later, Bacon, In Words presents paintings dating
from 1971, the year of the retrospective event at the national galleries of the Grand Palais,
to his final works in 1992. Didier Ottinger is the curator of this innovative exploration
of the influence of literature in Francis Bacon’s painting.
There are six rooms along the visitor route, placing literature at the heart of the exhibition.
The event includes readings of excerpts of texts taken from Francis Bacon’s library. Mathieu Almaric,
Carlo Brandt, Hippolyte Girardot, Denis Podalydes and Laurent Poitrenaux read from Aeschylus,
Nietzsche, Bataille, Leiris, Conrad and Eliot. Not only did these authors inspire Bacon’s work
and motifs directly, they also shared a poetic world, forming a ‘spiritual family’ the artist identified
with. Each writer expressed a form of ‘atheology’, a distrust of any values (abstract beauty, historical
teleology or deity, etc.) likely to dictate the form and meaning of thinking or of a work.
From Nietzsche’s fight against the ‘Backworlds’ to Bataille’s ‘Base materialism’,
Eliot’s fragmentation, Aeschylus’ tragedy, Conrad’s ‘regressionism’ and Leiries’ ‘sacred’,
these authors shared the same amoral and realist vision of the world, a concept of art and its forms
liberated from the a priori of idealism.
The inventory of Francis Bacon’s library, undertaken by the Department of History of Art
and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin, lists more than a thousand works. While denying any
‘narrative’ exegesis in his work, Francis Bacon, nevertheless admitted that literature represented
a powerful stimulus for his imagination. Rather than giving shape to a story, poetry, novels
and philosophy inspired a ‘general atmosphere’; ‘images’ which emerged like the Furies
in his paintings.
Bacon confided to David Sylvester his interest in the works of Eliot or Aeschylus, which he claimed to
‘know by heart’, adding that he only ever really read that which evoked ‘immediate images’ for him.
These images owed more to the poetic world, existential philosophy or form of literature that he chose,
rather than to the stories they told.
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, dating from 1944, testifies to the impact
of Aeschylus’ tragedy on his work. In 1981, Bacon produced a triptych which was explicitly inspired
by the Oresteia.
In addition to his own motifs, Bacon drew on the T.S. Eliot poem The Waste Land for its fragmented
construction and its ‘collage’ of languages and multiple tales. (Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem
« Sweeney Agonistes », 1967 Hirshhorn Museum, Washington.)
Among his contemporaries, Michel Leiris was the writer who was closest to Francis Bacon. He was
the French translator of the painter’s interviews with David Sylvester, and was the only artist with whom
the painter envisaged creating an illustrated publication (Miroir de la Tauromachie, published in 1990).
The exhibition at the Centre Pompidou focuses on works produced by Bacon in the last two decades
of his career. It consists of sixty paintings (including 12 triptychs, in addition to a series of portraits
and self-portraits) from major private and public collections. From 1971 to 1992 (the year of the artist’s death),
his painting style was marked by its simplification and intensification. His colours acquired new depth,
drawn from a unique chromatic register of yellow, pink and saturated orange.
1971 was a turning point for Bacon. The exhibition at the Grand Palais earned him international acclaim,
while the tragic death of his partner, just a few days before the exhibition opened, gave way to a period
marked by guilt and represented by a proliferation of the symbolic and mythological form of the Erinyes
(the Furies of Greek mythology) in his work. The ‘Black’ Triptychs painted in memory of his deceased
friend (In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, Triptych–August 1972 and Triptych, May–June 1973), all presented
at the exhibition, commemorate this loss.
The Centre Pompidou will also be organising several events linked to the Bacon, In Words exhibition.
The Bacon, a French Passion seminar will explore, in particular, Bacon’s influence on a number of authors,
such as Hervé Guibert, Claude Simon, Gilles Deleuze, Didier Anzieu or Philippe Sollers.
The 2019 edition of the Extra! Festival, devoted to non-book literature, will organise several evenings
around Bacon (readings, performances, projected, visual or digital literature, sound poetry, etc.)
An anthology of texts will also be published as a complement of the exhibition catalogue.
Admission and prices
Centre Pompidou, 75191 Paris cedex 04 Tel: + 33 1 44 78 12 33
Access: metro Hôtel de Ville and Rambuteau, RER Châtelet-Les-Halles.
Opening times: every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., except Tuesdays and May 1st.
Admission: €14, reduced price €11
Free for those under 18. Young people under 26*, teachers and students at schools of art, drama, dance and music and members of the Maison des artistes may visit the Museum for free and buy tickets for exhibitions at the concessionary rate.
Free admission for Centre Pompidou members.
Home printable tickets: centrepompidou.fr
* Nationals of Member States of the EU or the European Economic Area aged 18–25.
Valid the same day for the Musée National d’Art Modern and all exhibitions.
The exhibition «Bacon, In Words» will be shown from February 23rd to May 25th 2020
at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston.
The exhibition catalogue and the Bacon Book Club are supported by the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation