Francis Bacon (1909–1992) is celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest modern painters. The exhibition is the first to explore in depth the striking ghost-like framing devices that isolate many of his figures. It will bring together approximately thirty-five large-scale paintings as well as a selection of hitherto rarely shown works on paper which feature the motif of the cubic or elliptic cage.
It was in the 1930s that Bacon first began to organise the spatial and dramatic structure of his compositions with a barely visible cubic or elliptic cage that enclosed his figures in a kind of invisible room. Trapped in these imaginary chambers, the figures have no escape, no way of breaking out of their strangely indifferent cages. Bacon’s framing device guides the focus of attention towards the existential concerns of the painting, and the invisible rooms become spaces that make things visible.
Taking early works like the Tate’s Study for a Portrait (1952) or the Staatsgalerie’s Chimpanzee (1955) as a starting point, the exhibition Francis Bacon - Invisible Rooms traces the development, function and significance of these cages. The motif is particularly striking in Bacon’s early Popes, especially in Pope II (1951). Drawing on Velázquez’s famous portrait, it shows Pope Innocent X in full regalia sitting on a golden throne, his face distorted in a scream of anguish or pain. The loosely contoured throne already acts as a narrow cage. Its lines are continued to suggest an architectural setting that becomes an invisible prison.
After a period in the 1960s, when the motif was less dominant in Bacon’s work, it came back to centre stage in the 1970s. The artist’s use of contrasting colours turns the earlier suggestion of a room into a theatrical stage or arena and emphasises the disparity between the figures in their constricting frames and their environment. Seated, wrestling or otherwise engaged, the figures are presented as though on a dissecting table; their wretched, pitiable existence and raw animal physicality is highlighted and emphasised.
Yet it is only thanks to these artificial spaces and the concentration they engender that the figures or central elements seem to be able to come out of themselves; their pictorial isolation and spatial limitation allows them to abandon themselves. Thus the exhibition underscores Gilles Deleuze’s observation. In his seminal essay Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, published in 1981, the French philosopher explained Bacon’s frames as a pictorial device that acts directly on the nervous System.
In cooperation with Tate Liverpool the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart is organising the exhibition Francis Bacon - Invisible Rooms.