The moment a number of figures become involved, you immediately come on to the storytelling aspect of the relationships between figures. And that immediately sets up a kind of narrative. I always hope to be able to make a great number of figures without a narrative.
Bacon’s disturbing images—his portrayals of friends and fellow artists, and the deformations and stylistic distortions of classical subjects—radically altered the genre of figurative painting in the twentieth century. In Bacon’s paintings, the human presence is evoked sometimes viscerally, at other times more fleetingly, in the form of a shadow or a blurred, watchful figure. In certain instances, the portrayal takes the form of a composite in which male and female bodily traits are transposed or fused. This selective exhibition explores a theme that preoccupied Bacon throughout his career: the relationship between two people, both physical and psychological.
At the heart of the exhibition are two of the most uninhibited images that Bacon ever painted: Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954). These interrelated works have not been seen publicly together since the major retrospective of Bacon’s work at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971. After completing Two Figures in the Grass, Bacon did not return to the subject until 1967, the year that homosexual acts in private were decriminalized in England and Wales. That same year he painted Two Figures on a Couch(1967), which was last exhibited in London in 1968 and is also included in Couplings.