11 December 2005

Medical books 'inspired Bacon paintings'

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11/12/2005 - 14:38:48

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Controversial Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon used gruesome images in medical books for inspiration for some of his most shocking paintings, it was revealed today.

Dr Margarita Cappock, the head of the permanent collection at Dublin’s Hugh Lane gallery said textbooks on skin disorders, forensic pathology, surgery and x-ray techniques were behind some of Bacon’s most eye-catching paintings.

“He was very interested in medical imagery,” said Dr Cappock, who has just penned a book, ’Francis Bacon’s Studio’, on the rebuilding of the artist’s painting den in the Dublin city gallery.

A painstaking restoration project got underway at the gallery in 1998 after his long-time companion donated the studio and its contents.

Among the 7,500 items – including dirty paint brushes, books, photographs, drawings and slashed canvases – found strewn across the floor of Bacon’s chaotic studio in South Kensington, London, there were sheets ripped from books containing images of diseased toes.

“Twelve other medical textbooks were found in the studio. Some contain relentlessly gruesome images, such as A Colour Atlas of Forensic Pathology and A Colour Atlas of Nursing Procedures,” she wrote.

“A lot of people are horrified by his paintings,” Dr Cappock admitted, adding a close examination of his distorted paintings can reveal people with skin flaws and bodies modelled on meat carcasses.

More than 100,000 people have been to view the lifelike reconstruction of the artists London studio in the Hugh Lane gallery since the walls, ceiling, doors and entire contents were moved to Dublin and opened in the gallery in 2001.

Dr Cappock said the 83-year-old artist, known to have a taste for alcohol and socialising, had stuck to his cramped studio in No 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington between 1961 and his death in 1992 as he liked the light in the building.

Dr Cappock revealed: “He said he liked to work in chaos as it bred images in him. The chaos was important to him.”

The book, which is being launched on Tuesday, revealed the materials found in the studio have shown a host of topics captured the attention of the artist including paranormal phenomena, political leaders, war and assassination attempts.

“Several loose leaves with features on the assassinations of Leon Trotsky, John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were found throughout the studio,” she said.

The author said Bacon had experienced a lot of violence during his life, from 1914 when his father went to work in the War Office in London, to their return to Ireland during the war of independence
Dr Cappock said Bacon had found it inhibiting to work from live subjects and had instead relied on photographs – with 1,000 black and white images and 420 colour photographs found in his studio.

“He only painted close friends and contemporaries, rarely took commissions, he felt he had to know a person’s character intimately before he could paint them,” she said.

She said: “Some of his images are so distorted, looking at it you see a distorted thing, but the amazing thing about Bacon is no matter how distorted you can always see who the portrait was of. In one way Bacon was trying to capture the essence of a person.”

Around 100 slashed canvases were found in Bacon’s studio after his death. “They were very interesting as they were never seen before. The interesting thing about the ones we found in the studio was the meticulous way he cut out the faces, some were slashed quite violently with a Stanley knife,” she said.

Dr Cappock said the art experts carrying out the reconstruction had made a major find in the discovery of 41 drawings. She said the works refuted Bacon’s persistent denials he had ever made preliminary sketches for his paintings.

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