‘Bacon painted George Dyer many times and in a variety of ingenious poses: crouching, riding a bicycle, shaving, reflected in a mirror and, as here, seated on a revolving office stool. He appears, centre stage, in a luridly coloured setting, a blind cord mysteriously swinging above his forehead, its cast shadow seen on the curved wall behind, the whole scene lit by a menacing naked lightbulb – a feature of the artist’s own austerely furnished studio. Dyer appears to writhe in a contorted pose with his legs crossed, as if caught in mid action as he twirls himself round on the stool, papers scattered away from his summarily sketched-in left foot. His head is framed in an opening, which may be either a window or a door, or even a trimmed photograph of Dyer’s head pinned to the back wall. Spatial ambiguities abound, as Dyer’s body seems to defy the normal conventions of perspective by linking background to foreground’ (D. Farr on Portrait of George Dyer Talking, quoted in E.M. Stainton, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art, 1999, p. 138).
‘However great the liberties Bacon had taken in pulling apart and remaking the appearance of his other friends, with Dyer he reached a maximum intensity, not only paint pummelling his features into near-extinction but creating complex visual conceits, brilliant puns on seeing unlike anything he had attempted before’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 261).
‘A compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly [unorthodox] turn of phrase, [George Dyer] embodied pent-up energy. As a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia, he had been the subject, and the inspiration of some of Bacon’s greatest images’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, pp. 160-65).
‘Not an hour goes by when I don’t think about George’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 260).
‘In the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose. Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for which even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, p. 151).
‘Bacon has used his paint as if he were modeling the figure out of wet clay or as if he has forced his hands into the actual substance of the model and sculpted the bone-structure in order to intensify the pliancy of the flesh. The result is an effect of sumptuous deliquescence’ (R. Melville, Melville papers, 1960s, quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2009, p. 262).
Painted in 1966, Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) is a glowing tribute to George Dyer, Bacon’s great lover and muse. The subject of some of Bacon’s most arresting portraits including Two Studies of George Dyer (1968) (Art Museum Ateneum, Helsinki), Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1968) (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), and Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966) (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), it was this man who was to dominate the artist’s greatest decade in paint: the 1960s. Even on the eve of the artist’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971, an occasion which marked his career’s achievements, it was Dyer who was to mark the occasion, tragically taking his life just hours before the opening. Bacon subsequently painted the seminal black triptychs: Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer (1971) (Foundation Beyeler, Basel), Triptych. August (1972) (Tate Gallery, London) and Triptych. May-June (1973) in posthumous tribute to his lover. These paintings, which still reverberate with an acute intensity, were Bacon’s attempts at catharsis, exorcising the anguish and guilt in iterative portraits. As John Russell recounted, ‘in the lives of all of us there is a human being whom we least wish to lose. Bacon sustained that particular loss at the time of his retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1971-1972. He bore it with a stoicism for which even Homer would have been hard put to find words; but in his real life – his life as a painter, that is to say – it came to the fore over and over again’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, p. 151).
Among the cast of colourful characters that touched Bacon’s life, George Dyer was perhaps one of the most captivating. The two men had met in Soho in the autumn of 1963. As Bacon recalled, ‘I was drinking with John Deakin, who had just done some photographs for me, and lots of others. George was down the far end of the bar and he came over and said, ‘You all seem to be having a good time. Can I buy you a drink? And that’s how I met him. I might never have noticed him otherwise’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 259). A handsome man who took meticulous care over his appearance, Dyer wore a uniform of clean-cut suits and narrow ties tightly knotted around the neck to match the style of the infamous Kray Twins whom he both revered and reviled. Often anxious, and constantly smoking, Dyer was equally fragile, undermined by a feeling of a lack of purpose. Raised as a child in the East End of London, he had fallen into petty theft at a young age. Never very successful, Bacon would joke, ‘I think in a way [George] was too nice to be a crook’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 259).
Cast adrift and in need of protection, Dyer became Bacon’s lover, muse and dependent; a source of inspiration not only for his classical proportions and distinctive good looks (reminding Bacon of the lithe figure studies undertaken by Michelangelo), but as an emotional study with all his vulnerability and susceptibility. As Russell has described, ‘a compact and chunky force of nature, with a vivid and highly [unorthodox] turn of phrase, [George Dyer] embodied pent-up energy. As a spirit of mischief, touched at times by melancholia, he had been the subject, and the inspiration of some of Bacon’s greatest images’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, pp. 160-65). Around thirty years old at the time of their meeting, Dyer looked to Bacon with his charisma, confidence and success, as a mentor and guardian. With time however, his bleak prospects and Bacon’s mercurial character led to a tumultuous existence, punctuated by sharp mood swings and fits of emotion. This intensity, although quite different from that which he had known with Peter Lacy, fuelled Bacon and acted as a source of great inspiration. As Michael Peppiatt has observed, ‘however great the liberties Bacon had taken in pulling apart and remaking the appearance of his other friends, with Dyer he reached a maximum intensity, not only paint pummelling his features into near-extinction but creating complex visual conceits, brilliant puns on seeing unlike anything he had attempted before’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 261).
Rendered against a regal palette of ruby red and luxuriant swathes of lilac, Portrait of George Dyer Talking reaches its climax with the figure, which appears almost incandescent and brimming with nervous energy. In this painting, Bacon has situated the figure of Dyer at the centre of a revolving room; the walls, floor and ceiling forced to curve like a centrifuge. Under the heady momentum, the body of Dyer appears to unravel like cotton from a spinning bob, his very essence seeping out from his outstretched limb onto the scattered cluster of papers littering the floor. His torso appears to undergo some extreme torsion while his head revolves, whipping around to the left and forcing open his jaw. It is an incisive, biting portrayal of a man, which goes beyond the possibilities of traditional painting to render Dyer’s ‘body as expressive as the face’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971).
While Portrait of George Dyer Talking was originally undertaken from a series of photographs taken by John Deakin around 1965, much of the force and impassioned vigour that can be found in Bacon’s painting, arises from the artist’s own feelings. As he explained to David Sylvester, ‘the very form that you make has an implication when you are painting somebody, you know that you are of course, trying to get near not only to their appearance but also to the way they have affected you, because every shape has an implication’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1987, p. 130). The contours of Dyer, the flesh turned inside out like Soutine and Rembrandt’s great carcasses to confront the viewer, all of this is born from the intimate knowledge, which the artist held of the man’s physical and emotional contours. It is as Domino has described, ‘a spectacle of pain that emerges out of the artist’s work. It refers us back to naked matter, to chaos as the common condition of life… The artist hovers between gloomy humanism, creative empiricism and hedonistic frenzy, converting pain, that hallmark of existence, into the will to organize things despite the provisional nature of his life’ (C. Domino, Francis Bacon: Taking Reality By Surprise, London 1997, p. 98).
GEORGE DYER : THE MAN AND MUSE
Now mostly held within museum collections, the portraits of Dyer dating from the 1960s reached a nadir of intensity, unrivalled in the rest of his oeuvre. Dominating all of Bacon’s important shows from the period, including at Galerie Maeght, Paris in 1966-1967 where the present work was exhibited, Dyer stared out from almost every exhibition wall. At the same time, the real Dyer took unbridled pleasure in being the subject of so many works and never failed to attend an opening. As Peppiatt describes, these paintings of Dyer ‘were all the more disturbing for having been executed with the palpable confidence of an artist at the height of his imaginative powers’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 261). In Two Studies of George Dyer (1968), we see the artist recoil at the site of his own reflection, the face savaged and contorted, while in Two Studies of George Dyer with Dog (1968), we see the man reduced to a small, derisory, squat figure in the foreground, his shadow taking on the contemptuous form of a dog with his tongue lolling. In Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1968) the man’s face has been violently split in half, as if stripping back a mask from the head. In Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966), we see Dyer charting a precarious course across the canvas, the man engulfed by his own shadow. This prodigious series of paintings undertaken in the mid to late 1960s, to which Portrait of George Dyer Talking belongs, is both brutal and devotional; Bacon acting through love, lust and disdain. As Peppiatt has described, ‘the deformations were brought off with a bravura that took a mass of brushstrokes to the edge of non-sense, then held them there, underlining their triumphant precariousness with the black and green shadows of encroaching death, or flares of white pigment that sealed in the memory of sexual release. The extremes of existence were the constant theme of the portraits, in which Bacon invented his own ritual and mythology: the human ‘fact’ was all he needed if he could find the means to suspend it between tension and collapse, horror and fulfillment’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p. 260). All of Bacon’s major exhibitions from the 1960s were dominated by these complex and intense images of Dyer. Portrait of George Dyer Talking was included in the exhibition at Galerie Maeght, the major French dealer, which opened in November 1966 on the right bank, accompanied by the first written preface of Bacon’s work by Michel Leiris. It again recurred alongside masterpieces by the artist such as Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud (1969), in his major retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971.
It was this retrospective at the Grand Palais, which travelled on to the St?dtische Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf, that marked the peak of Bacon’s professional success. At the same time, it was an event that became ineffably bound up in deep personal tragedy. Fragile, despairing and perhaps more true to his portraits than could have been imagined, Dyer was to tragically pass away in Paris, barely thirty-six hours before the opening of Bacon’s exhibition. If in the 1960s Bacon had used Dyer as a vessel for his own musings on the pathos of human existence, his friend and lover appearing as heroic yet defenseless, intimate and exposed, it was in the great memorial triptychs of the early 1970s: Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer (1971) (Foundation Beyeler, Basel), Triptych. August (1972) (Tate Gallery, London) and Triptych. May-June (1973), that Bacon expressed the extent of his loss and depth of mourning. ‘Not an hour goes by when I don’t think about George’ he confessed to Peppiatt in 1972. ‘People say you forget about death, but you don’t. After all, I have had a very unfortunate life, because all of the people I’ve been really fond of have died. And you don’t stop thinking about them; time doesn’t heal. But you concentrate on something, which was an obsession, and what you would have put into your work. Because one of the terrible things about so-called love, certainly for an artist, is the destruction’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2009, p. 262).
IMAGE AND THE AFTER -IMAGE
Bacon only ever depicted friends and never painted his subjects from life, preferring to use photographs instead. As he once explained in a now oft-cited interview with David Sylvester, ‘even in the case of friends who will come and pose, I’ve had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them... I think that, if I have the presence of the image there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to through the photographic image... what I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance’ (F. Bacon interview with D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York 1990, pp. 39-40). In the case of George Dyer, Bacon near-obsessively collected photographs of the man, amassing near hundreds in his Reece Mews studio. Perhaps more than any other, it was Dyer’s well-known pose taken by John Deakin, friend and photographer around 1965, barely clad in the clutter of the studio that became the artist’s most dominant source (the figure of Dyer also recurred in later portraits, transposed onto elements of other memorable subjects including John Edwards).
In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, we see the man sitting, his left knee swung high over his right leg, hands clasped in his lap. Apparently thrown out by Dyer’s leg in a dynamic fit of energy is the collection of papers visible from the photograph, while a bare light bulb, visible in the austere Reese Mews studio interior, hangs precariously above. While Bacon preferred to paint by daylight, he also famously worked under this naked light bulb at night. In Portrait of George Dyer Talking this image, repeated in the later Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light (1973-1974), not only commemorates the artist’s painting practice, but also acts as a poignant memento mori. Just as the filament of a light bulb eventually burns out, so Dyer would meet a tragically premature death in 1971. At the same time, the composition is reminiscent of Piero della Francesca’s famous Rennaissance Brera Madonna, in which an egg hangs by a thread from the centre of the apse; an emblem of Mary’s fecundity and the promise of regeneration and immortality.
Barely legible, the cast of Dyer’s head is nevertheless drawn from Deakin’s photograph of his profile. Deakin captured at least four sets of photographs dedicated to Dyer including a close portrait of Dyer’s face – the silhouette of his prominent, aquiline nose shown in stark relief. Drawn to this particular photograph, Bacon cut out the familiar face like a Victorian miniature silhouette; at just over twenty-two centimetres high, Bacon pinned the portrait to his wall creating more than thirteen different pin holes at its top. As Margarita Cappock has suggested, Bacon perhaps ‘cut away Dyer’s head from one of the prints [as] a literal embodiment of his desire to lift the motif from its substrate’ (M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London 2005, p. 40). Having chamfered off the quiff of hair rising steeply from the forehead, Bacon could see more clearly the distinctive and familiar face of Dyer and this proved fertile inspiration for the artist.
Although Bacon was committed to using source material as a starting point for his painting, the artist adamantly affirmed that it was in fact the after-image, the after-glow of the subject, which would emerge from his paintings. As John Russell has explained, with Bacon’s painting ‘the image is nowhere fixed, finite, descriptive; and yet it tells us more fully and more truthfully than any conventional portrait what it is like to be a human being. It suggests to us that earlier images have been unwarrantedly bland in their presentation of human nature; and it also suggests that this particular new kind of presentation is something that only painting can do. Painting here reclaims its rights’ (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1971, p. 132).
THE PAINTER OF HUMAN FLESH
In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, Bacon has employed a remarkable flurry of white and vermillion brushstrokes to establish Dyer’s figure; the swirling contours created with impulsive, cascading marks of the artist’s brush. The muscles in his limbs almost convulse through the effects of Bacon’s confident gestures; as André Breton once famously asserted, ‘beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all’ (A. Breton, Nadja, New York 1960, p. 160). The body itself appears to be undergoing some sort of torsion, the torso whipping round to follow the head as it leads the rotation of the body. Sitting high on the swiveling bar stool, Dyer finds himself in a circus ring, Gilles Deleuze’s theatre of the body, at the mercy of the empty room revolving like a centrifuge. It is a dizzying metaphor for the man. In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, Dyer’s distinctive physiognomy is nearly illegible. Subjected to Bacon’s violence and the velocity of his brush strokes, Dyer’s jaw is prized open, words tossed into empty space. White impasto highlights and streaks of green cross the man’s cheek while red rises from his nose, lips and across one burning ear.
The figure itself has a carnal quality to it, recalling Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), now housed in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which marked a turning point in his practice. From the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s, Bacon’s treatment of flesh had been largely monochromatic. From 1962 onwards however, his technique and use of vibrant colour offered the body a more visceral and graphic effect than ever before. As Robert Melville has so aptly described, in these works ‘Bacon has used his paint as if he were modeling the figure out of wet clay or as if he has forced his hands into the actual substance of the model and sculpted the bone-structure in order to intensify the pliancy of the flesh. The result is an effect of sumptuous deliquescence’ (R. Melville, Melville papers, 1960s, quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens (eds.), Francis Bacon, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2009, p. 262).
In Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Bacon coupled the human body with a splayed carcass in the right hand panel, recalling the sheer visceral force of Chaim Soutine and Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox (1655) and drawing an explicit connection between meat, flesh and sex. In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, the same link can be made, his body depicted as though the flesh had been turned mysteriously inside-out. The energy teaming through the subject’s body appears to melt away from his limbs onto the floor and scattered papers below. As Bryson has suggested, ‘Bacon changes the current entirely, by joining the torsion of muscle, with its erotic charge, to the spasms where the boundaries of the body break open to the outside, where inside and outside flow into each other and the body is opened up (like meat)’ (N. Bryson, ‘Bacon’s Dialogues with the Past’, W. Seipel et al. (eds.), Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, 2004, p. 54).
CO LOUR AS MOOD
Portrait of George Dyer Talking, with all its physical, emotional and sensual charge was created on a ground of papal red, as if derived from Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. This carpet appears textured by infinite hatchings of crimson; staccato movements of the artist’s paintbrush traversing the carpet in zigzag lines. Flanking the figure of Dyer, Bacon has conjured up the walls of a room with a smooth monochrome field of lilac, bounded at the top by an arc of golden brown. This regal palette of purple, red and gold recalls the confident use of colour in Bacon’s Man and Child (1963), now held in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleb?k, and his unflinching and brazenly exposed portraits of Henrietta Moraes. The colours also recur in the artist’s disquieting composition, After Muybridge-Study of the Human Figure in Motion-Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water and Paralytic Child on all Fours (1965) held in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, the chromatic balance struck by the bold swathes of lilac, red and brown recall the resonant, emotive fields of colour created by contemporary American artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Yet Bacon was consistently scathing about Abstract Expressionism. For him, abstraction was to be restricted to the backgrounds of paintings, as complements to his figurative images. Nevertheless, the Tate Gallery’s 1959 exhibition, The New American Painting and Rothko’s retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1961, did leave a profound impression on the artist, with certain similarities emerging in his later body of work. As David Sylvester concluded: Bacon, who was famous for enjoying and engendering huge hilarity in his social life, created an art that was always resoundingly solemn. But he was not quite alone in his solemnity; he was in the company of Newman and Rothko and Still and Pollock. Those four contemporaries of his are grouped by Robert Rosenblum as the exponents of ‘The Abstract Sublime’. And Bacon’s role in painting has been that of the one great exponent in our time of the Figurative Sublime’ (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, exh. cat., London, Hayward Gallery,1998, p. 21).
THE FIGURE IN THREE DIMENSIONS
In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, Dyer’s figure is surrounded by a halo of green and is flanked by a limpid, grey shadow on the floor beneath. It is an almost spectral figure, one of Bacon’s wellknown hallmarks. The artist first began engendering his halo effect in the 1950s in paintings such as Two Figures in a Room (1959) held in the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury collection, University of East Anglia. As Martin Harrison has noted, Bacon had been looking at fragments from books such as J.E. Burns’s, Adventures in Wildest Africa published in 1949 documenting big game hunting with three-dimensional printing. The book shortly predates the public frenzy for 3-D images of the mid 1950s, which clearly informed Bacon’s practice. For the artist however, the silhouette was not merely a function of light or optical illusion, but rather a metaphorical tool representing the model’s emotional and physical ‘emanation’. As Gamper has elaborated, ‘Bacon’s shadow figures are a projection of a past, undamaged condition, a relic of a time when the body was still intact. The figure always carries within it its archetype, marked by unity and entirety, underlining its own precarious corporeality’ (V. Gamper, ‘The Ambivalent Function of a Shadow’, W. Seipel et al. (eds.), Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, 2004, p. 301).
Francis Bacon: Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966 By Martin Harrison
Francis Bacon met George Dyer in late 1963. He began to paint him almost immediately, resulting in Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, (1963; private collection). Dyer soon became Bacon’s most important subject and the sole vehicle for his paintings of the male nude. Yet by 1966 Bacon’s portrayals of him were assuming distinctly psychological and biographical aspects, which no doubt reflected the artist’s increasing sense of frustration at his muse’s perceived fallibilities. Based initially on the configuration established in the right panel of the triptych Three Figures in a Room (1964, Centre Pompidou, Paris), in 1966 Bacon started to paint large, single paintings that embody different intentions to the more straightforward small portraits and point instead to Dyer’s vulnerability.
In 1964 Bacon commissioned John Deakin to take a series of semi-nude photographs of Dyer in his Reece Mews studio, some in standing positions the others seated on a folding, wooden chair. Portrait of George Dyer Talking was the second in a series of eleven related paintings of Dyer that Bacon began in 1966 and completed in 1968 and which marks one of his most impressive achievements: he would return to the theme in similarly emotionally-loaded but more tragic circumstances following Dyer’s death in 1971. In Portrait of George Dyer Talking, Dyer is seated not on the chair that features in Deakin’s original photographs but teeters precariously on a circular bar-stool. Formally the composition is simplified into an interior environment delineated in three curved planes. Bacon invokes the qualified domesticity of its Reece Mews origins by the inclusion of the familiar sash pull-cord and bare light-bulb that hung in Bacon’s studio; set into the curving lilac wall a window frames Dyer’s head, recalling one of Bacon’s small portraits, but the flat blue rectangle provides no release from the room. The lower half of the background is occupied by Bacon’s variant of one of his ‘Aubusson’ carpets. The insistent, repeated diagonal strokes of pink paint across the dark vermilion base serve to intensify the sense of unease, the loss of equilibrium: onto the carpet Dyer casts a writhing, biomorphic shadow, only loosely related to the contours of his contorted, naked body, his left leg crossed high above his right.
This masterly painting is ultimately an exercise in depicting instability. Although Dyer is ostensibly ‘talking’, his mouth is obliterated in smears of white paint, over which Bacon has flicked strokes of green and flesh colour that run off from the body; these passages in Bacon’s paintings generally reference the unconvincing photographs of ‘emanations’ in Baron Von Schrenck Notzing’s Phenomena of Materialisation. Bacon was probably alluding to Dyer’s speech impediment, in which case the blank papers that fall across the carpet may indicate an absence of words, and thus are linked to the white passage that effectively cancels out Dyer’s speech. If so, the presence of the blank sheets was at least partly fortuitous, since they were clearly triggered by the reverse sides of the photographs that can be observed scattered across the cluttered studio floor in Deakin’s photographs. In Deakin’s photographs of Dyer it is as though the image has been effaced, or denied to the viewer, while in the painting one tends to read the sheets as having had words erased, or withheld.
Portrait of George Dyer Talking was the first painting in which Bacon incorporated sheets of paper in the foreground, and in this instance their blankness is both deeply poignant and an essential element in the composition. Moreover the tumbling papers anticipate a motif that he introduced in 1970 and continued to explore until 1984 – the enigmatic passages of random lettering on the surfaces of crumpled papers, or (painted) newspapers.
Produced by fixing adhesive transfer lettering (Letraset) onto the painted surface, evidently this was a device that held considerable significance for Bacon, for he continued to modify it fresh ways over the next fourteen years. In Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X the Pope holds a paper in his left hand, on which Velázquez inscribed his signature; it may be noted that this was a detail Bacon consistently omitted from his Pope paintings until his final variation, Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X, (1965, Private Collection). However, as in Portrait of George Dyer Talking, no writing is visible on the paper held the Pope. What first strikes the viewer in Portrait of George Dyer Talking is the vigour, passion and fluidity of Bacon’s painting of the body in its stark setting, in which the underlying narrative (or denial of it) acts as a subtle alternative dimension.
Martin Harrison is the editor of the forthcoming Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné.