BLOG Category: Expressionist Art

Freud and Bacon: Lives Lived Under Scrutiny
Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele’s Twisted Fates in Paint
Mouth as Muse: Bacon’s Fascination Became a Lifetime of Painting

Freud and Bacon: Lives Lived Under Scrutiny

For a quarter of a century, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon were the closest of friends. Their lives were characterized by an intense mutual scrutiny of each other and each other’s work, resulting in some extraordinary paintings and a deep but volatile relationship.

Although Francis Bacon was over a decade older than Lucian Freud, their meeting in the mid-1940s sparked an instant and lasting friendship between the two men. For the next 25 years, they would see each other almost every day. Freud’s second wife later recalled that she saw Bacon for dinner “nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch.”

When they weren’t painting, they spent much of their time at the Gargoyle Club (and later the Colony Room) in London’s Soho, drinking, gambling and arguing. They would sometimes run into other members of bohemian circles, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Freud later recalled memorable instances such as waking up with his head in a toilet in one of their Soho haunts.

On one occasion, Freud lost everything he owned gambling, including his car, which he went home to fetch so that he could bet it. Bacon could be similarly profligate, sometimes literally throwing money at people who asked for it and buying extravagant rounds of drinks. He would say, “”Champagne for my real friends – real pain for my sham friends!”

In the studio, they constantly scrutinized each other’s work, offering comment and criticism but not always liking what they saw. As Bacon later put it, “Who can I tear to pieces, if not my friends? …If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.” As two figurative artists working at a time when abstraction was the pervading fashion, their practices drew on these mutual processes of looking and criticizing to inform their painting.

However, although they were painting in the same tradition, their ways of working couldn’t have been more different. When Lucian Freud first sat for a portrait by Bacon in 1951, he was fascinated by the older artist’s hurried and spontaneous approach. Bacon’s paintings of Freud bear little physical resemblance to the sitter, but instead depict something closer to a psychological sketch or essence.

Conversely, when Bacon sat for Freud the following year he was amazed at how long Freud took with the painting. Bacon sat consistently for three months. For Freud, however, this was fast work; in 2007 he finished a portrait that had taken 16 solid months to complete. Sadly, Freud’s portrait of Bacon was stolen in 1988 when it traveled to an exhibition in Berlin. Freud later designed a “wanted” poster for his missing painting, and posted them around Berlin in the hope that it would be found, but it remains lost.

In 1969, Bacon painted a large triptych of Freud. It was sold in 2013 for $142 million, breaking the record for the most expensive artwork ever bought at auction. However, the painting which later made Freud and Bacon the darlings of the art market originally marked the end of the pair’s long friendship. Soon after it had been completed, Freud and Bacon fell out, reportedly over Bacon’s dislike of Freud’s wealth and snobbery. As two highly strung characters with a love of arguing, it is almost surprising that they didn’t fall out earlier.Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud 1969

Although they respected each others early work, neither had any love for the others’ later creations. Freud caustically labeled Bacon’s paintings from the 1980s “ghastly”, and the feeling was entirely mutual. Nevertheless, although they eventually rejected each other’s friendship, they remained tied in the eyes of the public and the art market. Furthermore, and rather touchingly, Freud had an early work by Bacon hanging on his bedroom wall for most of his life. He said, “I’ve been looking at it for a long time now, and it doesn’t get worse. It really is extraordinary.”

Learn more about Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud on the Art Story artists pages.

Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele’s Twisted Fates in Paint

Cardinal and Nun (Caress), 1912, Egon Schiele.

Kneeling forms against an indeterminate background, two figures interlocked as one… perhaps this painting looks familiar? The work is a tongue-in-cheek play by Egon Schiele and a slightly sacrilegious homage to his master, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Rather than love and passion, these religious figures are caught in the act, stiff against religious vow.

The Kiss (Lovers), 1907-1908, Gustav Klimt.

The Mentor and His Star Pupil

With a nearly 30 year age difference, Schiele and Klimt had a mentor-student relationship that lasted throughout their artistic careers. From copycat styling to love triangle rumors, this twisted story is told in their paintings.

In 1907 a then-teenaged Schiele saw Klimt as an idol and sought him out. The two fostered an artistic friendship and elements of Klimt’s avant-garde style can be found in many of Schiele’s early works and drawings, including these:

Left: Portrait of Gerti Schiele. Right: Standing Girl in a Plaid Garment. Both by Egon Schiele, 1909.

The Love Triangle with Wally Neuzil

Klimt’s influence was never far away. He introduced Schiele to many gallerists, fellow artists, and models, including the perhaps infamous Valerie (Wally) Neuzil. Neuzil had previously modeled for Klimt, and is rumored to have been his mistress. In 1911 she moved with Schiele to Krumau in the Czech Republic and thus began a four-year affair with him. In 1916 she returned to her old lover, posing again for Klimt.

The Hermits, Egon Schiele, 1912.

Left: Portrait of Wally, Gustav Klimt, 1916. Right: Woman in black stockings (Valerie Neuzil), Egon Schiele, 1913.

In fact, Schiele slyly alludes to this shared love in his 1912 painting The Hermits. The artist depicts two male figures in a Klimt-esque embrace, who on second take appear to be the mentor (on the left) and student (on the right) themselves. Dressed in all black, these two “hermits” are one mass but two thin white lines in the background connect the couple to a wilting rose, red like the color of Neuzil’s fiery hair.

Muse Shared, Again?

Klimt and Schiele portraits also reveal another shared subject: Viennese society woman Friederike Maria Beer-Monti. She rang Klimt’s doorbell in 1915 and asked if she could pose for his artworks. The process took six months and, in that time, she is rumored to have been one of his many flames. Just one year earlier, she had been the subject of a work by Klimt’s mentee.

Left: Portrait of Friederike Maria Beer-Monti, Egon Schiele, 1914; Right: Portrait of Friederike Maria Beer-Monti, Gustav Klimt, 1916

Both artists were notorious for their affairs with women. Klimt, who never married, is said to have fathered 17 children with his muses. Schiele often found himself in hot water with the authorities for his choice of studio visitors, children and adult, who posed nude.

Breaking Conventions in Art, Too

As personal relationships grew more interconnected so did their artistic styles. The bright colors and elongated bodies in Klimt’s unfinished The Bride and the more jagged lines and gestural coloring in Schiele’s Portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff would lead their contemporaries to a new – and more personal – way of thinking about color and form in art.

Left: The Bride, Klimt, 1917; Right: Portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff, Schiele, 1910.

With a relationship based on mutual respect, Klimt and Schiele continued to support and guide each other through the art world. There was an obvious amount of humor between the two; only a prized pupil could have gotten away with such sheer parodies of his mentor.

And, by the way, here’s a more banal portrait of Wally that her artists’ paintings didn’t show:

Schiele and Neuzil in Krumau, Czech Republic, 1913. Image via Leopold Museum.

Gustav Klimt is currently abuzz in the pop culture world. Actress Dame Helen Mirren is starring in The Woman in Gold, a movie about Klimt’s painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Watch the trailer here:

Learn more about Klimt’s life and career here:

For more on Egon Schiele’s romantic muses:

Learn more about Schiele’s life and career here:

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Mouth as Muse: Bacon’s Fascination Became a Lifetime of Painting

“I like, you may say, the glitter and color that comes from the mouth, and I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like [Claude] Monet painted a sunset.” –Francis Bacon

Postwar Irish painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is infamous for his detailed depictions of figures’ mouths, often wide open and screaming.

But, his colorful shrieks are more than imaginative. Bacon was an ample researcher, and some pretty gruesome real life images are hidden in his artworks.

“The Massacre of the Innocents,” Nicolas Poussin, 1628-1629.

Bacon’s oral fascination grew when he moved from Ireland to Chantilly, France at age 17.

In the Musée Condé, he encountered his earliest art influence: The Massacre of the Innocents by Nicolas Poussin. He called it “probably the best human cry ever painted.”

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Left: Still from "Battleship Potemkin," directed by S.M. Eisenstein, 1925. Right: Study for the Nurse (detail), Francis Bacon, 1957

Left: Still from “Battleship Potemkin,” directed by S.M. Eisenstein, 1925. Right: Study for the Nurse (detail), Francis Bacon, 1957

Popular culture also permeated Bacon’s obsession with a trip to the art movie house.

The film “Battleship Potemkin” was a self-proclaimed “catalyst” for his artwork and the cry of an Odessa nurse would be direct inspiration later in his career.

Left: Image from “Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche,” first edition 1894. Right: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, central panel detail, Francis Bacon, 1944.

Finally, he scoured the libraries of Paris for a scientific authority.

In Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, a French translation of an 1894 German medical textbook, Bacon found his ultimate source material: hand-colored plates of various mouth diseases in all their sore-filled, slobbery glory.

These diseased and distorted oral images would shape the creative canon of this existentialist artist for the next six decades.

“They always interested me,” he said, “And the colors were beautiful.”

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Learn more about Bacon’s life and career here:

Julian Bell wrote extensively about Bacon’s scientific source material in this 2007 article for the New York Review of Books: