Past Exhibition Special Exhibition

Francis Bacon



The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

About the Exhibition

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) spent most of his life in London, which he used as a base for his international artistic activities. Bacon, whose life spanned most of the 20th century, has been categorized alongside Picasso as one of the archetypal painters of the 20th century. Between 2008 and 2009, the centennial of his birth, he was the subject of a retrospective that toured some of the world’s foremost art museums, including the Tate Britain (United Kingdom), the Prado Gallery (Spain), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (United States).

Despite the fact that various museums around the world have managed to stage Bacon exhibitions, for the last 30 years Japan has not witnessed a solo exhibition of his work. Even today Bacon continues to stimulate a great many artists across all manner of genres. We are convinced that acquainting as many people as possible to the allure of Francis Bacon is an incredibly worthwhile endeavor.

About the Sections

1. 1940s-1950s: Transient Body

Bacon traces his own debut to around 1944, immediately before the end of World War II. It seems that for Bacon, who witnessed the struggle for independence in Ireland and experienced two world wars in England, human existence and power were seen as exceedingly ephemeral, transient things.

With this in mind, Chapter One, which serves as the introduction to the exhibition, will begin with a number of works from the late 1940s on the theme of “screaming.” The focus will then shift to works from the period up to the late 1950s when Bacon transitioned from painting figures with ghost-like bodies to his rediscovery of color, materiality under the influence of Van Gogh.

Through works that depict the Pope, regarded by some as God’s representative, screaming like a frail human and works that portray the Sphinx, regarded as a cross between human and animal, male and female, and deity and human, visitors will be able to grasp the essence of Bacon’s art.

2. 1960s: Sacrificed Body

Bacon’s work reaches a turning point in around 1960. Increasingly his figures are placed in extremely everyday settings, such as on sofas or beds.

In Chapter Two, which traces Bacon’s evolution as a painter, the focus shifts to his artwork from the 1960s. Whereas in the 1950s the body was something transient, in the 1960s it regains a real presence. The poses it assumes, however, are somewhat odd, including sitting or lying on beds and sofas, as if having been flung in front of the viewer. One could describe the results as “theatrical” or “sacrificial.”

Works presented in this section will include those based on the “real” movement of the human body as revealed in the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge and those based on photographs of friends he had taken by photographers at his own request.

3. 1970s-1992: Anti-Narrative Body

From the 1970s onward, Bacon’s work becomes increasingly complex. Multiple figures are depicted within a single canvas, and in the case of paintings of single figures, devices such as mirrors and doors are incorporated into the work.

In Chapter Three, the concluding section of the exhibition, the focus is on works produced in the period up until Bacon’s death. During this period, although the body is depicted in increasingly complex circumstances, no clear meaning seems to be communicated to the viewer. There is contradiction and no clear causal sequence or context, and at times it even seems as if Bacon is gradually relieving the body of the burden to narrate something “clearly.”

Comprising mainly triptychs, including the pink triptych (1970), which reflects an interest in sculpture, and Bacon’s final triptych (1991), this section will be the climax of the exhibition.

4. Epilogue: Body after Bacon

As should be clear by now, the bodies depicted by Bacon were continually in a relationship of tension with space, time (narrativity), and so on. That being the case, Bacon’s work has long held a particular appeal for dancers.

Here we will present a work created by German artist Peter Welz in collaboration with the world-renowned choreographer William Forsythe, also from Germany. Based on Bacon’s final work left unfinished in his studio, this is a video installation created by Welz using footage of Forsythe performing a dance he choreographed. This will be the first time this work, which has previously been shown at the Louvre, will be presented in Japan.

There will also be a presentation on film of Japanese dance: the butoh of Hijikata Tatsumi that incisively captured and assimilated the essence of Bacon’s work over roughly the same period.

Hours & Admissions


The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo




10:00-17:00 (Friday is 10:00-20:00)
*Last admission : 30 minutes before closing


*Closed on Mondays (except March 25, April 1, 8, 29 and May 6, 2013), May 7, 2013


Day ticket (Group of 20 persons or more)
Adults: ¥1,500 (1,100)
College / University students: ¥1,100 (800)
High school students: ¥700 (400)

*All prices include tax.
*Middle school age and under 15 are free of charge.
*Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.


The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Nikkei Inc.


British Council
Embassy of Ireland


Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC
Daishinsha Inc.


Nippon Cargo Airlines Co., Ltd.
Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.
The Estate of Francis Bacon.

Media enquiries

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