Francis Bacon’s Studio
By Margarita Cappock
Merrell Publishers Limited, 2005, 240 pages, hardbound, $59.95
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was born in Ireland to British parents and today is recognized as one of the most significant post-war painters, his disturbing oil portraits acquired by major museum collections worldwide. Bacon is remembered primarily for his symbolic, macabre portrait of Pope Innocent X. London/New York publisher Merrell has produced a definitive, retrospective coffee-table volume on Bacon using the device of his unique (read unimaginably messy) studio as the springboard into his career and lifework.
Six years after his death in 1992 the contents of his rather cramped London studio were donated to the Dublin City Council in Ireland with the understanding that it would be recreated there with all its contents intact for public viewing. Easier said than done, because the studio, Bacon’s home and workplace since 1961, contained 7,500 items – a treasure trove of precious artifacts to an art historian. There are two absorbing stories here: the challenge of cataloging, transporting and reassembling the contents of the studio (front door, paint-encrusted walls and all) across the Irish Sea to Dublin, and then the significance of each uncovered item as it related historically to Bacon’s oeuvre.
“Maintaining the studio exactly as it stood was crucial to the experience,” Dr. Cappock writes. So a team of photographers, archeologists, conservators and curators went to work, launching an indoor archeological dig to create a detailed diagram of exactly where each item lay/stood/hung so that the recreated space would be precisely accurate. Today the reconstructed studio is open to the public at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, Charlemont House, Parnell Square, Dublin 1, Ireland.
Needless to say, the piles and piles of clippings, photos, sketches, catalogs, books and even slashed canvases speak volumes to the historic arc of Bacon’s work and Dr. Cappock finds in this detritus the inspiration for each phase of his artistic development. Some of the many graphic images Bacon collected over his lifetime reveal the macabre basis for much of his output: massacres, meat carcasses and the assassination of President Kennedy. Other photos show the subjects of his commissioned portraits including Mick Jagger. By the last page the reader has received a detailed, insider’s view of the creative evolution of Francis Bacon.
For anyone building a library on 20th century art this impressive, heavy book, Francis Bacon’s Studio, is a must.