You’d be hard pushed to keep me away from either a Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud exhibition – I’m too drawn to their darkness and obsession with the excavation of the human condition to say No – so, of course, I was always going to be interested in this small, joint display of works at Marlborough Fine Art.
Friends who rose to prominence in London in the 1950s, Bacon and Freud are widely regarded as the leading figurative artists of the 20th century. This display focuses on their prints, with Marlborough Fine Art selecting works that give an overview of the artists’ graphic output and demonstrates the different approaches each took to printmaking.
Francis Bacon based his prints on a selection of 35 of his paintings dating from 1955 – 1991. Following a European tradition of artists collaborating with master printers which dates back to the Renaissance, Bacon worked with skilled French, Italian and Spanish printers on a relatively small body of lithographs and a few etchings (totalling only about 40 editions).
Marlborough started working with Bacon in 1958 and has carried his graphic works since they were made. Frankie Rossi, Director of Marlborough Graphics explains, “Bacon wanted his prints to look as close to his paintings as possible – his attention to detail and desire for perfection are evident in these works. Prints were produced under his supervision and he personally made changes to proofs when necessary, always ensuring the right colour balance was achieved.”
And the quality of the prints is superb. None of the power in works such as his After Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1981, and Seated Figure, 1977, is lost. And the prints also give a great opportunity to see many of his studies, such as those for Pope Innocent X and his various triptychs.
In comparison, Freud created his first etching in Paris in 1946, but the height of his graphic output was in the 1990s. The marks and techniques he employed during the etching process were a natural progression from his work as a draughtsman. In his paintings and prints, the influence of one medium on the other can be seen.
His subjects were those close and familiar to him, though often anonymous to the viewer. Working in a purist manner, all of Freud’s etchings are devoid of colour (bar two editions) and feature minimal backgrounds. Unsettling and unyielding, the works contain a remarkable honesty and an awkwardness that adds to the nervous nature of the images.
It’s a small collection of prints from the two artists – perhaps a dozen from each in total – but it’s a terrific glimpse into their brilliance.
Marlborough Fine Art, Albermarle Street, London, to February 24, 2017
1 Francis Bacon, After Three Studies for a Self Portrait, 1981, a set of three lithographs printed on one sheet, AP IV/XXV aside from the edition of 150, 47 x 103.5 cm, © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved / DACS 2016
2 Woman Sleeping, 1995, etching, edition of 36, 82 x 67.5 cm, Freud, Lucian (1922-2011) / © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images
3 Francis Bacon, Seated Figure 1977, 1991, aquatint, edition of 90, 163 x 119 cm, 134 x 98.4 cm, © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved / DACS 2016