Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)

Last updated
Study for Portrait II, 1955. Tate Britain, London Study for Portrait II (1955).jpg
Study for Portrait II, 1955. Tate Britain, London

Study for Portrait II (subtitled after the Life Mask of William Blake) is a small 1955 oil on canvas painting by the Irish-born British figurative artist Francis Bacon, one of a series of six portraits completed after viewing that year the English poet, painter and printmaker William Blake's (b. 1757) life mask at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Contents

The series resembles Bacon's late 1940s and early 1950s paintings of single bust length single male figures set against anonymous flat undescribed dark backgrounds, and can thus be viewed as extensions of his "Man in Blue" paintings of a few years earlier. This second of the versions completed in January 1955, it is considered the strongest, and is in the collection of Tate Britain, London.

Commission

James Deville's 1823 plaster cast. H: 92mm Works of William Blake; poetic, symbolic, and critical (1893) Volume 2 - frontispiece.png
James Deville's 1823 plaster cast. H: 92mm

Bacon became interested in the series after he was asked by the composer Gerard Schurmann to design the album cover for "Six Songs of William Blake"; pieces of music Schurmann had set to a number of Blake's poems. [1] Bacon painted six separate versions, each a variant of his earlier "Man in Blue" series, [2] and Bacon apparently viewed the series as one of his most successful. As so often with Bacon's portraits, each of the works are provisionally titled as a "Study"; according to art critic Jonathan Jones this may be because Bacon saw the Blake paintings only as "[attempts] to get at the essence of what a portrait is." [3]

Description

Bacon did not work from a cast of the head, but instead from a black and white photograph, [4] supplied by the gallery, although a plaster replica of the mask was found in his bedroom at Reece Mews after his death. [5] Study II is considered the most artistically successful of the series, and is described as consisting of "broad strokes of pink and mauve, with which Bacon establishes an equivocation between waxen mask and human flesh, drag pain and loneliness and imperturbable spirit in their wake." [6]

Blake was around fifty years old when the cast was made by the sculptor and phrenologist James De Ville, whose method and approach were influenced by his teacher, the English sculptor Joseph Nollekens, who to avoid suffocation provided his models with straws while submerged in the casting material. [7] Although Bacon's work is titled as a "life mask", the painting more resembles a death mask, [1] as evidence by dark black flat, simplified background and the figure's closed eyes and pallid skin. [8] His lips are tightly pursed and turned downward as in Deville's cast. While his left eye is tightly shut, his right eyebrow is raised. Jones writes that, with this painting, Bacon "apprehends something beneath the visible skin: an inner self, suffering in absolute isolation." [3] In this Bacon's portrait resembles Deville's original cast, which was viewed favourably by those who knew Blake. The National Portrait Gallery notes how Blake's friend, the artist George Richmond (1809–96) "said that the unnatural severity of the mouth was caused by the discomforture of the process 'as the plaster pulled out a quantity of his hair." [7]

The portrait has been described as similar to Blake's c. 1819–20 miniature painting Ghost of a Flea in its "fleshy, monstrous intensity, [and] the authority of a vision seen in darkness." [3]

Notes

  1. 1 2 Harrison, Martin. "Out of the Black Cavern". Christie's. Retrieved 4 November 2018
  2. Peppiatt (1996), p. 83
  3. 1 2 3 Jones, Jonathan. "Study for Portrait II - after the Life Mask of William Blake, Francis Bacon (1955)". The Guardian , 23 February 2002. Retrieved 4 November 2018
  4. Sylvester (2000), p. 69
  5. "William Blake's Head". Hugh Lane Gallery. Retrieved 4 November 2018
  6. "Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)". Tate Britain. Retrieved 4 November 2018
  7. 1 2 "NPG 1809 William Blake". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 4 November 2018
  8. Van Alphen (1992), p. 105

Sources

Related Research Articles

Francis Bacon (artist) Irish-born British figurative painter, 1909–1992

Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his raw, unsettling imagery. Focusing on the human form, his subjects included crucifixions, portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends, with abstracted figures sometimes isolated in geometrical structures. Rejecting various classifications of his work, Bacon said he strove to render "the brutality of fact." He built up a reputation as one of the giants of contemporary art with his unique style.

<i>Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion</i> 1944 triptych by Francis Bacon

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion is a 1944 triptych painted by the Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon. The canvasses are based on the Eumenides—or Furies—of Aeschylus's Oresteia, and depict three writhing anthropomorphic creatures set against a flat burnt orange background. It was executed in oil paint and pastel on Sundeala fibre board and completed within two weeks. The triptych summarises themes explored in Bacon's previous work, including his examination of Picasso's biomorphs and his interpretations of the Crucifixion and the Greek Furies. Bacon did not realise his original intention to paint a large crucifixion scene and place the figures at the foot of the cross.

<i>Second Version of Triptych 1944</i>

Second Version of Triptych 1944 is a 1988 triptych painted by the Irish-born artist Francis Bacon. It is a reworking of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, Bacon's most widely known triptych, and the one which established his reputation as one of England's foremost post-war painters.

<i>Triptych, May–June 1973</i> 1973 painting by Francis Bacon

Triptych, May–June 1973 is a triptych completed in 1973 by the Irish-born artist Francis Bacon (1909–1992). The oil-on-canvas was painted in memory of Bacon's lover George Dyer, who committed suicide on the eve of the artist's retrospective at Paris's Grand Palais on 24 October 1971. The triptych is a portrait of the moments before Dyer's death from an overdose of pills in their hotel room. Bacon was haunted and preoccupied by Dyer's loss for the remaining years of his life and painted many works based on both the actual suicide and the events of its aftermath. He admitted to friends that he never fully recovered, describing the 1973 triptych as an exorcism of his feelings of loss and guilt.

<i>Study after Velázquezs Portrait of Pope Innocent X</i> 1953 painting by Francis Bacon

Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X is a 1953 painting by the artist Francis Bacon. The work shows a distorted version of the Portrait of Innocent X painted by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez in 1650. The work is one of the first in a series of around 50 variants of the Velázquez painting which Bacon executed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The paintings are widely regarded as highly successful modern re-interpretations of a classic of the western canon of visual art.

<i>Fragment of a Crucifixion</i> 1950 painting by Francis Bacon

Fragment of a Crucifixion is an unfinished 1950 painting by the Irish-born figurative painter Francis Bacon. It shows two animals engaged in an existential struggle; the upper figure, which may be a dog or a cat, crouches over a chimera and is at the point of kill. It stoops on the horizontal beam of a T-shaped structure, which may signify Christ's cross. The painting contains thinly sketched passer-by figures, who appear as if oblivious to the central drama.

<i>Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86</i>

Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86 is a triptych painted between 1985 and 1986 by the Irish born artist Francis Bacon. It is a brutally honest examination of the effect of age and time on the human body and spirit, and was painted in the aftermath of the deaths of many of his close friends. It is Bacon's only full-length self-portrait, and was described by art critic David Sylvester as "grand, stark, ascetic".

Triptychs by Francis Bacon Art by the Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon

The Irish-born artist Francis Bacon (1909–1992) painted 28 known triptychs between 1944 and 1986. He began to work in the format in the mid-1940s with a number of smaller scale formats before graduating in 1962 to large examples. He followed the larger style for 30 years, although he painted a number of smaller scale triptychs of friend's heads, and after the death of his former lover George Dyer in 1971, the three Black Triptychs.

<i>The Black Triptychs</i>

The Black Triptychs are a series of three triptychs painted by the British artist Francis Bacon between 1972 and 1974. Bacon admitted that they were created as an exorcism of his sense of loss following the suicide of his former lover and principal model, George Dyer. On the evening of 24 October 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon's triumphant and career-making retrospective at the Grand Palais, Dyer, then 37, alcoholic, deeply insecure and suffering severe and long-term depression, committed suicide through an overdose of drink and barbiturates in a room at the Paris hotel Bacon had allowed him to share during a brief period of reconciliation following years of bitter recrimination.

<i>Head VI</i> Painting by Francis Bacon

Head VI is an oil-on-canvas painting by Irish-born figurative artist Francis Bacon, the last of six panels making up his "1949 Head" series. It shows a bust view of a single figure, modeled on Diego Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X. Bacon applies forceful, expressive brush strokes, and places the figure within a glass cage structure, behind curtain-like drapery. This gives the effect of a man trapped and suffocated by his surroundings, screaming into an airless void. But with an inverted pathos is derived from the ambiguity of the pope's horrifying expression- whose distorted face either screams of untethered hatred towards the viewer or pleads for help from the glass cage- the question of what he is screaming about is left to the audience.

<i>Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho</i>

Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho is a 1967 oil on canvas painting by the British figurative artist Francis Bacon, housed in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Described by art critic John Russell as one of Bacon's finest works, it depicts Isabel Rawsthorne, the painter, designer and occasional model for artists such as André Derain, Alberto Giacometti and Picasso.

<i>Triptych–August 1972</i>

Triptych–August 1972 is an oil on canvas triptych by the British artist Francis Bacon (1909–1992). It was painted in memory of Bacon's lover George Dyer who committed suicide on 24 October 1971, the eve of the artist's retrospective at Paris's Grand Palais, then the highest honour Bacon had received.

<i>Portrait of George Dyer and Lucian Freud</i>

Portrait of George Dyer and Lucian Freud was a 1967 oil on canvas painting by the Irish-born artist Francis Bacon, which he destroyed before it left his studio, though it was photographed and is highly regarded by art critics. Bacon was a ruthless self critic, and often abandoned paintings mid-work, or slashed finished canvases; something he often later regretted.

<i>Head I</i>

Head I is a relatively small oil and tempera on hardboard painting by the Irish-born British figurative artist Francis Bacon. Completed in 1948, it is the first in a series of six heads, the remainder of which were painted the following year in preparation for a November 1949 exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in London. Like the others in the series, it shows a screaming figure alone in a room, and focuses on the open mouth. The work shows a skull which has disintegrated on itself and is largely a formless blob of flesh. The entire upper half has disappeared, leaving only the jaw, mouth and teeth and one ear still intact. It is the first of Bacon's paintings to feature gold background railings or bars; later to become a prominent feature of his 1950s work, especially in the papal portraits where they would often appear as enclosing or cages around the figures. It is not known what influences were behind the image; most likely they were multiple – press or war photography, and critic Denis Farr detects the influence of Matthias Grünewald.

<i>Head II</i>

Head II is an oil and tempera on hardboard painting by the Irish-born British figurative artist Francis Bacon. Completed in 1948, it is the second in a series of six heads, painted from the winter of 1948 in preparation for a November 1949 exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, London.

<i>Head III</i> 1949 painting by Francis Bacon

Head III is an oil painting by Francis Bacon, one of series of works made in 1949 for his first one-man exhibition at the Hanover Gallery, in London. As with the other six paintings in the series, it focuses on the disembodied head of male figure, who looks out with a penetrating gaze, but is fixed against an isolating, flat, nondescript background, while also enfolded by hazy horizontal foreground curtain-like folds which seems to function like a surrounding cage.

<i>Portrait of Michel Leiris, 1976</i>

Portrait of Michel Leiris is a 1976 oil on canvas panel painting by the British artist Francis Bacon. It is the first of two portraits Bacon made of his close friend, the French surrealist writer and anthropologist Michel Leiris; the second followed in 1978.

<i>Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe</i>

Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is a 1968 oil on canvas panel painting by the Irish born, English artist Francis Bacon. It is the second of two similarly titled paintings based on nude photographs of his close friend Henrietta Moraes, who is shown in a reclining position on a bed, themselves part of a wider series of collapsed figures on beds that began with the 1963 triptych Lying Figure. This later version is widely considered the more successful of the two panels.

<i>Three Studies for a Self-Portrait,</i> (Bacon, 1979)

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait is an oil on canvas triptych painting by the Irish born English artist Francis Bacon. Two of paintings are signed and dated 1979, and the third signed and dated 1979–1980. The work can be viewed as a penetrating self-examinations undertaken in the aftermath of the suicide of his lover George Dyer, and as one of a series of inward looking self-portraits completed during the 1970s. Bacon was seventy at the time, but appears as ageless.