The Easel

5th November 2019

Of pain and poetry: how Francis Bacon drew inspiration from Greek drama and TS Eliot

A “stupendous” exhibition. Bacon felt he deserved to be Picasso’s equal. A 1971 exhibition in Paris had hugely elevated his international reputation. Where to from there? Unhappy in his personal life, Bacon wanted to express “the vulnerability of the human situation”. And he did, in visceral, confronting terms. Little surprise that a favourite quotation of this most “pitiless” artist was “the reek of human blood smiles out at me”.

‘There Was Great Purity in American Art. I Wanted to Insult It’: Going Rogue With Peter Saul

Saul’s early work anticipated Pop but such a rebellious talent would never be a “member” of any such movement. His priorities have been to avoid political correctness, take pop culture seriously, be “attentive to the chaos of the world”. If that means treading on toes, fine. “To accept not to be shocking is to accept being a piece of furniture”. An exuberant, unclassifiable career that finally is gaining broader recognition. Images are here.

29th October 2019

El Greco: The last great Renaissance master

Patrons are hard to come by. El Greco tried in Venice, Rome and Madrid before finally winning favour in religious Toledo. Contemporaries thought his style “incomprehensible” with its expressive distortions of form and colour. Having started Spain’s Golden Age of art, El Greco was quickly forgotten. One contributor to his belated rehabilitation – the young Picasso, via his masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Images are here.

More than Mona Lisa: Louvre’s Leonardo da Vinci is a blockbuster with brains

This is “the great Leonardo show of our time”. Leonardo didn’t dabble – he was “striving for the most perfect form of painting”. Says one critic, he “erased the distinctions between art and ideas … the original conceptual artist”. More than a painter, Leonardo was a polymath, who could imagine distant futures. His workbooks have this writer “inwardly whooping with delight. You go, Leonardo!” An illuminating discussion of eight works is here.