Painting 1946

In July 1946 Bacon’s Painting 1946 made its public debut at the Redfern Gallery, London. It was, particularly in the context of post-war British art, exceptionally large and ambitious; one critic compared Bacon’s technique with Velázquez, but The Times correspondent thought it the ‘most alarming’ picture in the exhibition and its imagery was widely perceived as provocative and disturbing. It was bought for £200 by Erica Brausen, but immediately after selling the painting Bacon left London for Monaco. He lived in Monaco for most of the following three years, and continued to return there regularly throughout his life.

Although Bacon was deeply critical of all artists’ work, including his own, evidently he regarded Painting 1946 as a significant achievement. It was the first of his paintings to be bought by a museum, and its purchase by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1948, was an important milestone in his career.

For Bacon one of the main precepts that propelled his paintings was the operation of ‘chance’. He considered that Painting 1946, which he said ‘came about entirely by accident’, epitomised this. Even forty-five years later, in one of his last interviews, he continued to cite Painting 1946 in order to demonstrate how his imagery arose by chance. Recent scholarship, however, has shown that its iconography was more premeditated than Bacon had suggested, and research on this topic is proving to be a fertile aspect of modern Bacon studies.

Martin Harrison
Editor of The Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné

Francis Bacon, Painting 1946