All Too Human
As an avid follower of Francis Bacon’s work, the All Too Human exhibition at the Tate Britain was unmissable. Bacon’s work, some of which has not been exhibited in the UK for thirty years, did not fail to impress, with the familiar bold colours and contorted figures acting as centerpieces on the walls. Examples included, Three Figures and Portrait, and, Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, both of which are unsettling and disturbing, a key and unavoidable feature of Bacon’s early work.
Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X Three Figures and Portrait
Francis Bacon Francis Bacon
Alongside Bacon’s paintings there were works belonging to other postwar British artists, including Lucian Freud, Walter Sickert and David Bomberg. The exhibition also reflected the multicultural fabric of London, with both the artists themselves and their models belonging to a range of nationalities. Freud’s, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, also challenged the traditional notion that models should be positioned in what is commonly thought as ‘attractive’ poses. However, it arguably portrays a more realistic insight into what it is to be human.
Sleeping by the Lion Carpet
Together, the pieces in the exhibition demand that the viewer challenge the notion that a photorealistic image is the most effective way to capture the essence of what it is to be human. Indeed, in many paintings, the depiction of flesh as raw and disfigured gives the viewer a deeper insight into the personality of both the artist and his muse. The viewer is able, for a moment, to enter into the (often complex) relationship between the painter and the sitter. This becomes especially interesting when looking how an artist depicts their lover. For example, Bacon and Dryer, and Freud with Epstein.
Girl with a White Dog Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer
Lucian Freud Francis Bacon
Often, the complex relationships and the intense emotions shine through in the paintings and one sees not only the beauty, but the ugliness too. The vulnerability which accompanies nakedness adds another layer to the human condition. The bodies are stripped of any distractions that might take the viewer’s attention away. For example, before, one might look at the details on the buttons of the muse’s shirt, or the hem on their dress, but now, they are forced to engage with the skin itself. This throws the viewer instantly, and walking around the gallery you often see some viewers only giving the paintings a quick glance, whilst also judging those who spend more time studying them.
Walter Richard Sickert