Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford (12 September 2013 - 16 January 2014)

(L) Henry Moore: King and Queen ( 1952-53)
(R) Francis Bacon: Lying Figure in a Mirror (1971)

The premise of this collection of work by two giants of twentieth century British art is to show the parallels in their practice despite their use of different mediums and perspectives on the human figure, from Moore’s modernist approach and belief in humanism and Bacon’s expressionism and nihilist view of the world.  Both were affected by their experiences of the Second World War and although they only met on a handful of occasions and never worked together, from the end of the War to the late 1960s their work was frequently exhibited together.  This exhibition is a contemporary reflection of this coming together and is perhaps the most amazing exhibition I have seen this year.   An indication of the impact of their work together first appears with the grouping of Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) and Moore’s Falling Warrior (1956-57).  Both pieces are so confidently and magnificently executed that viewing them together is a sheer joy to my eyes and the  juxtaposition of Bacon’s large scale visceral and sculptural paintings alongside Moore’s emotionless monoliths which continues in the next room, is simply jaw dropping.
(L) Francis Bacon: Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963)
(R) Henry Moore: Falling Warrior (1956-57)

However, it was in the second room, named ‘Monumental Forms’, which was the gift which just kept giving.  After the initial impact of entering a room full of large sculptural pieces which are usually seen outside, the curatorial vision behind the installation of the work ensured that additional and unexpected Bacon/Moore combinations could be discovered by walking around the sculptures and view finding new and exciting composition s from around the room – Moore’s Woman (1957-58) placed in front of Bacon’s Untitled (Kneeling  Figure) (1982) offered an equally compelling view of Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) if viewed from the back of the sculpture – her elongated neck mirrored those in Bacon’s painting.   

(T) Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944)
(B) Henry Moore: Woman (1957-58)
There were also plenty of other smaller pieces which were equally intoxicating, from Bacon’s pastel and pencil on paper Studio Interior (1936) and Moore’s The Helmet (1939-40).  While Bacon never undertook any sculpture work, Moore’s preparatory sketches and shelter drawings  completed in London Underground shelters during the Second World War while acting as an official war artist, demonstrate his two dimensional abilities.

 (T) Francis Bacon: Studio Interior (1936)
(B) Henry Moore: The Helmet (1939-40)

Whilst this exhibition is not unique in presenting the work of these two behemoth artists to compare and contrast their work and re-evaluate their legacy, it strength lies in its ability in bringing together a collection of work where every piece is at the same high level of artistic vision and execution by both artists.  Neither comes out of the aesthetic fight the weaker and the emotional intensity bound up in every canvas and bronze ensured that the last exhibition I visited in 2013, was the very best.  

No comments:

Post a Comment