Bacon paintings world first for Sainsbury Centre

LORNA MARSH Norfolk's flagship art gallery has clinched an exclusive international first with an exhibition of Francis Bacon paintings which includes some never before seen in public.

LORNA MARSH

Norfolk's flagship art gallery has clinched an exclusive international first with an exhibition of Francis Bacon paintings which includes some never before seen in public.

It is only the second show that the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA), based at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, has put on since its £10m relaunch in May.

Fifty works by the acclaimed artist from private and public collections all over the globe form the first exhibition of its kind in the world and the only one in Europe before going to America.


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And yesterday SCVA staff unpacked the first of the works for the Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, which is guest curated by London-based Michael Peppiatt, Bacon's biographer and friend of 30 years.

Mr Peppiatt said: “I have become increasingly convinced that Francis Bacon reached the height of his creative prowess during the 1950s.

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“From the screaming heads and snarling chimpanzees of the late 1940s, through the early popes and portraits of Van Gogh, to the anonymous figures trapped in tortured isolation, never again would the Baconian world be so rich and inventive.”

And the show does not just comprise artworks but photos and letters that provide a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of a complex artist.

Mr Peppiatt said: “Photographs of Francis Bacon as a very young man show an immaculately dressed youth with neatly parted hair and a fresh round face consumed by the intensity of his wide-apart eyes. It is the gaze of a child surprised and fascinated by the mystery of the world.

“By the time Cecil Beaton photographs Bacon in the late 1950s, wariness has crept into the eyes. The young man has lost his innocence, but not his wonder.”

Some paintings also tell the story of the friendship formed between Bacon and Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, founders of the SCVA.

The couple helped Bacon financially and commissioned work from him, including each others' portraits which are among the 13 paintings owned by the SCVA that form the backbone of the exhibition.

Among the works sourced from other collections are five never put on public display giving visitors a rare opportunity to view them.

Sara Cooper, the exhibitions curator at the Norwich end, said it was satisfying to know that the centre had kept the momentum going since securing another world exclusive of Polynesian art for its relaunch.

She added: “It is very exciting to be unwrapping these major works of art, it is like Christmas with butterflies in your stomach as you open them.”

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