Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life.
Held at the TATE in London until August 27, 2018, the exhibit entitled “All Too Human” celebrates those British painters who have successfully represented the human form in the most intimate way, their relationships and their environment. In addition to works by Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, there are also pieces by contemporary artists such as Frank Auerbach and Paula Rego, who have shared the same city with their illustrious predecessors. This is the London that understands exactly how to be city of business, but also the cultural capital of the entire world, where a lively melting pot animates an ecosystem of continuously renewed ideas and stimuli.
The starting point is a group of works by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, accompanied by a rich collection of photographs and archival material: over one hundred works including paintings, unpublished documents, drawings and sketches, as well as installations and videos. The typical themes of Bacon and Freud recur in the exhibited works – the union between figuration and abstraction, the deformation of bodies, autobiographical references, solitude and tension as allegories of the human condition.
“I think art is an obsession with life, and after all, as we are human beings, our greatest obsession is with ourselves. Then possibly with animals, and then with landscapes.”
Francis Bacon has fascinated the public in the past, and continues to fascinate us today, thanks to his ability to express existence in its ruthless nakedness, without rhetoric or artifice.
In 1945 at the end of World War II, in a London still devastated by bombings, Bacon appeared to struggle with the idea of whether it is still possible to portray the human form. The painting “Figure in a landscape” is from that period. The details of a man sitting in a flannel suit, struggling to emerge from the centre of the image, the spectre of a gaping mouth, a toothless void that anticipates the famous screaming popes of Bacon, give the viewer a disturbing no-man’s land of entangled pipes and hedges or indistinct ferns, mostly in an arid khaki yet with traces of blood red.
The curator of the exhibit, Elena Crippa, has placed this painting at the beginning. She has done so in order to direct the entire show towards the way in which some British painters maintained their fidelity to the human figure despite the fact that others had lost this after learning about the Holocaust. The journey continues with the sharp bronze figures of Giacometti from 1956. The Swiss sculptor, with his noteworthy insistence on the human form, albeit diminished, was a great inspiration for Bacon.
However, the exhibit also aims to celebrate British artists who, more than others, have been constantly trying to capture the intense experience of life through painting over the last 100 years. As a result, works by some of the most famous modern British artists, including David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer, “The Butcher’s Windows” by Chaim Soutine and the lovingly deconstructed brushstroke of Walter Sickert‘s shady nudes were selected. This is also the exhibit of human interweavings, exchanges and friendships. Sickert taught Bomberg; Bomberg taught William Coldstream, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff; Coldstream taught Euan Uglow, Michael Andrews and Paula Rego at Slade, where Lucian Freud was also a tutor, and so on.
The fulcrum of “All Too Human”, however, remains the relationship between Bacon and Lucian Freud, who appeared to want to cling to a sort of limpid sensuality, however disturbed it might have been. The portrait of his wife, the girl with a kitten and the girl with a white dog seem to live in that dream world that his grandfather Sigmund had begun to discover and analyze.
This is an exhibit that cannot be missed. It highlights the strident bonds between different generations of artists and tells the story behind this ‘expanded’ history of figurative painting in the twentieth century, through the works of contemporary artists who continue to express the tangible reality of life through painting.
Lastly, “All Too Human” is also an opportunity for the public to admire three important works of Bacon that have not been exhibited for over 30 years.