The Hermitage Museum Saint Peterburg brings to an end its 250th anniversary celebrations with Francis Bacon exhibitions in Russia and the UK. Both exhibitions will show the artist’s work from UK collections alongside objects from the Hermitage that inspired him. The exhibition includes an impressive twenty-five canvases, and are on show in St. Petersburg until March 8. The paintings are part of an exhibition ‘Francis Bacon and the Art of the Past’ on display at the newly reconstructed General Staff building, which provides additional space for Hermitage exhibitions.
The many works by Bacon are shown accompanied by photographs and other items from the artist’s studio. But co-curator Thierry Morel’s particular novelty is the juxtaposition of Bacon’s paintings with masterpieces of the past, from ancient Egypt to work by post-Impressionists, all taken from the Hermitage’s collection.
The exhibited “Portrait of Innocent X” by Velasquez, one of the versions by the artist and is held at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, comes from the collection of Lord Douro. The image of the Pope created by the great Spanish painter was a source of inspiration for many paintings by Bacon.
The exhibition is complemented by the works of art from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum: from specimens of Greek and Roman sculpture to paintings by Velazquez and Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso, sculptures by Michelangelo and Rodin. Francis Bacon, like many other artists, looked back at his predecessors, examined and used the experience of the great masters of the past and his contemporaries.
The materials from Bacon’s studio in South Kensington, London, which are now held in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, let the viewer glimpse into the world of the artist, to get acquainted with his creative process, and to identify the sources of individual images of his works, in which ancient, classical and contemporary art has played such an important role.
“My experience working with the Hermitage this past year has been extraordinarily enjoyable,” said co-curator Thierry Morel. “I was glad to offer the Bacon exhibit project to this great museum during the year of its anniversary,” he added.
Bacon’s earliest painting at the exhibition is Crucifixion, which he finished in 1930. It is one of the few surviving works of his early period; in a fit of self-criticism, the artist later destroyed the majority of his paintings from that time. The majority of the Hermitage masterpieces displayed alongside to Bacon’s paintings were familiar to him during his lifetime, even if he never saw them in the flesh. Instead Bacon often studied art history through books, and photographs of works, many of these materials will be juxtaposed with the artist’s work, giving the viewer a sense of Bacon’s practice.
Bacon counted Rembrandt, Velasquez, Michelangelo, Titan and Ingres among those he considered his teachers. According to Morel, “Bacon was maniacally fond of one master after another. A mountain of books and reproductions grew in his studio, which he did not copy directly but from which he drew inspiration.”
In April, the exhibition will move to the UK’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, the main partner and contributor of half the paintings. The exhibition, which runs there April 18 to July 26, will continue the idea of comparing Bacon’s work with the art of the past. However, this time the concept will be displayed differently because some older masterpieces cannot be removed from the Hermitage.
Still, British spectators are likely to be surprised by the variety of masterpieces from the Hermitage collection, including sculptures by Bandinelli and Bernini; works by Titian, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; Cezanne’s self-portrait; and pieces by Matisse and Picasso.
Francis Bacon and the Art of the Past – The State Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg – Until 8 March 2015, and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia from 18 April to 26 July 2015