Bacon at Grand Palais: Echoes and Influences
Universidad de Granada
In March 1969 Francis Bacon received an offer to hold a retrospective of his work at the Grand Palais in Paris. He was the first British artist since W. B. Turner to receive the honour of having a monographic exhibition of this scale in the French capital. The exhibition, inaugurated in 1971, was undoubtly the most significant show of the artist’s work to this date, more extensive than previous retrospectives, celebrated in London (Tate Gallery, 1962), New York (Solomon Guggenheim Museum 1964), and Hamburg (Kunstverein, 1965).
The event was shadowed by the tragic death of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer in a Parisian hotel, night before the exhibition opening; an incident that shaped Bacon’s painting from then on. The Grand Palais show marked a turning point in both personal life and artistic career of Francis Bacon, and, on the other hand, confirmed his luminary status in France as the greatest living artist of his time The retrospective, which later travelled to Düsseldorff, triggered a series of successful exhibitions, such as 1968-74 Recent Paintings (1975) held in MOMA.
Bacon’s paintings displayed in Grand Palais had an enormous impact on cultural practice in France, not only on visual arts but also on other disciplines. Filmmakers and writers, such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Milan Kundera and Claude Simon visited the exhibition and produced works directly affected by Bacon’s rendering of human figure. The purpose of this paper is an analysis of Bacon’s Parisian retrospective as one of the most influential artistic events of the 1970s and to demonstrate the long term cultural impact of the Grande Palais exhibition in France and internationally. I will base this study on recent findings from Francis Bacon’s archive and the results of my postdoctoral research carried out in the Hugh Lane Gallery and King’s College London.