Three Studies for a Crucifixion

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Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, Guggenheim Museum in New York Three Studies for a Crucifixion Francis Bacon 1962.jpg
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, Guggenheim Museum in New York

Three Studies for a Crucifixion is a 1962 triptych oil painting by Francis Bacon. It was completed in March 1962 and comprises three separate canvases, each measuring 198.1 by 144.8 centimetres (6 ft 6.0 in × 4 ft 9.0 in). The work is held by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Triptych three-part polyptych

A triptych is a work of art that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works. The middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works, although there are triptychs of equal-sized panels. The form can also be used for pendant jewelry.

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

Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his emotionally charged raw imagery, fixation on personal motifs, and heavy experimentation.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Art museum in Manhattan, New York City

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, often referred to as The Guggenheim, is an art museum located at 1071 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 89th Street in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year. The museum was established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, under the guidance of its first director, the artist Hilla von Rebay. It adopted its current name after the death of its founder, Solomon R. Guggenheim, in 1952.

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Background

Bacon produced a number of works inspired by the Crucifixion since his early paintings Crucifixion and Crucifixion with Skull (both 1933). His Wound for a Crucifixion (also 1933) was exhibited in Bacon's first solo exhibition in February 1934, but it was destroyed by Bacon after negative reviews. His artistic reputation was grounded on his first large triptych, the 1944 masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion , and he created his Fragment of a Crucifixion in 1950. He returned to the triptych format in 1962, with this painting, which is today seen as a marking point between his early and mature periods. He returned to the crucifixion two further times, with the Crucifixion in 1965, and the 1988 'Second Version of Triptych 1944 , a reworking of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. In Bacon's art, the crucifixion does not just refer to the death of Christ, but also to any image of corporeal suffering, pain, and mortification.

Crucifixion of Jesus Jesus crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels

The crucifixion of Jesus occurred in 1st-century Judea, most likely between AD 30 and 33. Jesus' crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels, referred to in the New Testament epistles, attested to by other ancient sources, and is established as a historical event confirmed by non-Christian sources, although there is no consensus among historians on the exact details.

<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>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.

This work was created over a period of about two weeks, in preparation for his first retrospective at the Tate Gallery in London in 1962. Bacon created each canvas separately and then working on them as a group, often while very drunk or hungover. He later commented: "it's one of the only pictures that I've been able to do under drink. I think perhaps the drink helped me to be a bit freer". The work was one of 91 shown at the Tate that year, about half of Bacon's output at that time. It arrived at the gallery with the paint still wet.

Description

The triptych is monumental in scale, some 6½ feet tall and nearly 15 feet long, twice the dimensions (four times the area) of the 1944 work, with its human figures depicted near life size. It deliberately associated animal slaughter with the crucifixion. In medieval triptychs, the panels were usually intended to be read in chronological sequence; with Christ carrying the cross in the left panel, the Crucifixion in the central panel, and the descent from the cross to the right; or as three parts of a scene from the same location; Christ on the cross flanked by two crucified criminals. However, Bacon often intends his triptych works to be read as three separate scenes, not linked by temporal or spatial continuity. In this work, the subjects of the three separate canvases do not seem to interact or interrelate, but they are shown with similar simple backgrounds: an orange floor joining a curved red wall which is pierced by black openings.

Here, the left panel appears to show two figures in a butcher's shop with joints of meat on the counter. The centre panel is occupied by a bloodied human body writhing on a bed, with a white dot on the foot possibly a nail scar. The crucifixion is moved from its traditional place in the centre panel to the third panel, where a figure reimagined as a gutted carcass that is sliding down a cross in the right panel; its contorted form is a reference (but inverted) to Christ's body in Cimabue's 13th-century Crucifix and is also influenced by Rembrandt's Side of Beef .

Cimabue Italian painter

Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo or Cenni di Pepi, was an Italian painter and designer of mosaics from Florence.

Crucifix (Cimabue, Santa Croce) Painting by Cimabue

The Crucifix by Cimabue at Santa Croce is a wooden crucifix, painted in distemper, attributed to the Florentine painter and mosaicist Cimabue, one of two large crucifixes attributed to him. The work was commissioned by the Franciscan friars of Santa Croce and is built from a complex arrangement of five main and eight ancillary timber boards. It is one of the first Italian artworks to break from the late medieval Byzantine style and is renowned for its technical innovations and humanistic iconography.

Rembrandt 17th-century Dutch painter and printmaker

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch draughtsman, painter and printmaker. An innovative and prolific master in three media, he is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Unlike most Dutch masters of the 17th century, Rembrandt's works depict a wide range of style and subject matter, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch art, although in many ways antithetical to the Baroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative, and gave rise to important new genres. Like many artists of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Jan Vermeer of Delft, Rembrandt was also an avid art collector and dealer.

Bacon later commented, "one has got to remember as a painter that there is this great beauty of the colour of meat … we are meat, we are potential carcasses".

Michael Peppiatt's alternative interpretation is that Bacon's vehement denial of any auto-biographical story in this work as an indication of quite the opposite; Peppiatt suggests the three panels relate to Bacon leaving home, an unsatisfactory sexual experiences in Berlin, and the death of Bacon himself.

Michael Peppiatt is an English art historian, curator and writer.

Notes

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