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Francis Bacon: Study for Portrait VI On View NOW

Francis Bacon: Study for Portrait VI, a generous loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Art is on view at the CMA through Dec. 31, 2016 in gallery 224.

Francis Bacon’s portraits of screaming heads and contorted figures trapped in boxes and cages are among the most disturbing images of the human figure in the history of 20th-century art. Study of Portrait VI, a masterpiece in this genre, offers deep insights into Bacon’s alarming commentaries on the human condition. This painting is the culmination of a series that Bacon began as portraits of his friend, but they subsequently became entwined with visions of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

As the series progressed, the figure became more agitated, the mouth open to emit a terrifying scream, and the face nearly obliterated by dripping paint. The ghostly, transparent figure sits in a dark room, his body immobilized by a curvaceous gold framework, while receding white perspective lines lead toward a rectangular shape, denying any possibility of escape from this tomblike space. The composition epitomizes Bacon’s method of situating isolated figures in terrifying situations that convey profound feelings of angst, pain, horror, and confusion, alluding to the mental anguish many artists felt during this postwar period of existential crisis.

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Christopher Moore

The Cleveland Museum of Art

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