On View

Study After Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

Study After Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Artist: Francis Bacon (English, 1909 - 1992)
Date: 1953
Medium: Oil on canvas
Frame: 68 3/8 × 54 7/8 × 3 3/8 in. (173.7 × 139.4 × 8.6 cm.)
Image (visible): 59 7/8 × 46 3/8 in. (152.1 × 117.8 cm.)
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1980.1
Accession number: 1980.1
Classification: painting
Label TextBacon was born in 1909 in Dublin of English parents. Lacking academic training in art, he nevertheless achieved a modicum of success as a furniture designer, interior decorator and painter and exhibited his work in London in the 1930s. Only aout 10 of the paintings remain since the artist destroyed most of his works of that early period. Source: Bulletin, November-December, 1979.
Bacon used Velásquez’s 17th century portrait of Pope Innocent X as his subject nearly 50 times between 1949 and 1971. This version is considered by most to be Bacon’s definitive statement on the theme. Although he never saw the Velasquez in person, Bacon became entranced by reproductions of the work. Many images and ideas captured Bacon’s imagination and recurred in his work. His fascination with graphically depicting the mouth is evident here, as in many of the pope paintings. In particular, this scream references the “Odessa Steps” sequence of the classic silent film Battleship Potemkin (another Bacon obsession). In the film, a nurse cries out violently as she is shot through her eyeglasses, and the red, blood-like paint splatters can also be related to this imagery. The strange yellow lines surrounding the figure form both a throne and reference a boxing or wrestling ring, a common theme in the artist’s work. Despite its specific iconography, the painting remains unsettling and enigmatic. The long vertical and diagonal brushstrokes covering the canvas suggest motion, blurring the image in such a way that it can be seen as falling through space. By presenting an authoritarian figure like the pope in this scenario, overcome by the primal act of screaming, Bacon subverts the concept of authority and presents a disturbing image of chaos.
Exhibition History"Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953," Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Jan. 17 - Mar. 28, 1999

"Francis Bacon," (Retrospective) Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, July 4 - Oct. 28, 1996; Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, Dec. 1996 - Feb. 1997

"Francis Bacon, A Retrospective Exhibition," Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Oct. 11, 1989 - Jan. 7, 1990; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb. 5 - Apr. 22, 1990, Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., May 23 - Sept. 4, 1990

"Francis Bacon," organized by the Galerie Beyeler, Baumliengasse, Switzerland, June 12 - Sept. 30, 1987

"Francis Bacon," organized by the Tate Gallery, London, May 22 - Aug. 18, 1985 (circulated to: Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, West Germany, Oct. 10, 1985 - Jan. 1, 1986; Nationalgalerie, West Berlin, Feb. 6 - Mar. 30, 1986)

"Exhibition in conjunction with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra's Concert," Toledo Museum of Art, Jan. 11 - Feb. 17, 1985

"Extended Loan," Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Oct. 7, 1983 - Nov. 7, 1984

"Highlights from the Three Collections: The Bohen, Coffin and Cowles Collections," Des Moines Art Center, July 8 - Sept. 11, 1983

"Selected Works from the Collection of Carter Burden," Marlborough Gallery, N.Y., May 9 - June 1, 1974

"Francis Bacon," Galleries national du Grand Palais, Paris, Oct. 26, 1971 - Jan. 10, 1972 (circulated to Stadtische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, Germany, Mar. 7 - May 7, 1972)

"Seven Decades 1895-1965: Crosscurrents in Modern Art," Odyssia Gallery, N.Y., Apr. 26 - May 21, 1966, (odyssia Gallery was one of ten New York Galleries Participating in the exhibition)

"Francis Bacon," Tate Gallery, London, (circulated to: Stadtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim, Germany, July - Aug. 1962; Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland, Oct. - Nov. 1962)

"Francis Bacon - Hyman Bloom," UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angelos, Oct. 30 - Dec. 11, 1960

"Francis Bacon," organized by the Galerie Beyeler, Baumliengasse, Switzerland, color plate 4.

"New Images of Man, " Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., Sept. 1959 - Feb. 1960 (circulated during this period to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland)

"The New Decade - 22 European Painters and Sculptors," Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., May 10 - Aug. 7, 1955 (circulated to: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Sept. 21 - oct. 30, 1955; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nov. 21, 1955 - Jan. 7, 1956; San Francisco Museum of Art, Feb. 2 - Mar. 15, 1956)

"New Paintings by Francis Bacon," Beaux Arts Gallery, London, Nov. - Dec. 1953
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entirely unexpected