Tue 3 Oct 2023 to Fri 15 Dec 2023
Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm
Endless Variations is the first exhibition dedicated to the work of two of the most important artists of the twentieth century: Francis Bacon (1909–1992) and Andy Warhol (1928–1987). It explores common interests and influences shared by the artists – each of whom was central to defining the art of their own generation – not least their use of colour, love of photography and serialisation of images.
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While they were aware of each other’s work, Bacon and Warhol belonged to different generations of artists; Warhol was central to the younger Pop art movement whose members were treated almost as celebrities, while Bacon and his peers had remained faithful to portraiture and oil painting, something that Warhol and his associates admired but treated as somewhat passé. Nonetheless, both artists bucked the prevailing trend of Abstract Expressionism that had dominated Western painting since the 1950s.
They were introduced in Paris in 1974 by David Hockney. They met again in New York in 1975 at a luncheon organised by the socialite Lee Radziwill, Bacon having travelled to America for the opening of his retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the opening, Warhol remarked upon Bacon’s radical and bold use of colour which he confessed to copying in his own portraits. On the same trip Bacon visited the Factory, Warhol’s studio, and also had his portrait taken by the American artist on his Polaroid camera. In later interviews with the art critic David Sylvester, Bacon stated his admiration for Warhol’s revolutionary serialisation of works which he found made those objects intrinsically interesting.
At the core of the exhibition are seven paintings: four by Bacon and three by Warhol, the majority of which have rarely, if ever, been shown in London. These include two works based on portrait photographs taken in photobooths; Warhol’s first seminal Self-Portrait, 1963–1964, which featured on the cover of the catalogue for the major Warhol retrospective at MoMA, New York, and the Pompidou Centre, Paris, in 1989–90, and Francis Bacon’s Four Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1967, which was shown at the artist’s legendary retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971. Also based on a series of photographic portraits is Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964, which was also included in the Paris retrospective.
The artists’ use of colour is explored through Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1969, and Warhol’s Five Deaths on Turquoise, 1963, a painting from the artist’s ‘Death and Disaster’ series. This theme extends to ‘Study for Portrait of John Edwards’, circa 1984, which depicts Bacon’s companion on a bubblegum pink background. The portrait also explores themes of movement alongside Warhol’s Merce Cunningham, 1963.
Bacon and Warhol’s love of photography was also shared with Peter Beard (1938–2020), the renowned American artist and wildlife photographer, with whom both had a close friendship. The exhibition includes two related works by Peter Beard (1938-2020); Andy Warhol on his Birthday, Montauk Point, Long Island, 1972/2004, and Andy Warhol on his Birthday, 1975/2005.
Archival and contextual materials include previously unseen photographs of Francis Bacon and George Dyer at Roland Gardens in 1967 taken by John Deakin (1912–1972), and photo strips of Francis Bacon, George Dyer and David Plante taken in Aix-en-Provence in 1966 and subsequently mounted by Bacon onto the back cover of a book.