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Francis Bacon

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Francis Bacon’s self portrait is a haunting image that evokes thoughts of the human body’s fragility, especially the aged human body. This piece is a reflection of mortality and death expressed with melancholy colors and sparse imagery. The viewer is forced to reflect on the impact of time on the body and how time is the real Grim Reaper bringing us closer to death. The pose of Bacon’s body in a bleak environment brings to mind an empty waiting room and how life is like a vast waiting room with its inhabitants watching as all their friends and family are called into whatever lies beyond. As one ages and watches peers die around them the loneliness can be overwhelming, a fact that Bacon expresses with this self-portrait.

What stands out about this piece upon first viewing is the monochromatic color scheme. Bacon uses mostly grays, blacks, beiges, browns and perhaps a little bit of blue. The uncertainty of the blue in the painting is important and will be discussed later. The bleakness of the colors sets the mood for the piece; it is not a violent chaotic painting, but rather a simple desolate representation of an aging human. If this were a portrait of any other human the meaning would change drastically, the fact that it is a portrait of the artist by the artist tells the viewer that he is in pain, not a sharp vicious pain but a cold numbing pain. There is little variety and almost no color in his life at this point in time and he is trapped in a windowless room to reflect on his pain. This room is circular with high ceilings, if there is a ceiling at all, and contains no other objects besides the artist and his chair. The shape adds to the unsettling nature of the piece. The viewer wonders where the artist is, what brought him...

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... and he is looking forward to joining them. He is already old and loathes the body he is left with. What happens when one is left with nothing to fear? All that’s left is time. He has a lifetime of pain and death to reflect upon while he waits yet he has no one to wait with. This loneliness is deeply disturbing and the viewer absorbs this loneliness. Perhaps it will be forgotten soon after viewing yet this sort of emotion is the kind that will appear again and again as one’s friends and family die. I am confident that I will see this image in my head as I watch my loved ones die and it will stay in my mind as I watch my body age and decay. Just like Bacon and every other human being, at the end of my life all I will be left with is my own self.

Works Cited

Peppiatt, Michael. Francis Bacon: an anatomy of an enigma. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997. Print.
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