Bullfighting is like boxing – Francis Bacon.
Typical of Bacon, his words sum up the links between violence and voyeurism. He believed that bullfighting – a controversial tradition – exposed inconsistent attitudes towards animals: he found it illogical that people who condemned bullfighting as cruel might still wear furs and feathers.
Bacon owned numerous postcards and books, in which photographs captured the dance-like motion of the bullfight. He interpreted contours and shapes as gestural sweeps of paint. The swirling mass merges matador, cape and bull, challenging a clear distinction between human and animal. The dynamism is intensified by a brightly coloured, imagined arena that is artificially small compared to the protagonists.
Three versions of this painting exist today, possibly echoing the three 'tercios' or stages of the bullfight. The pictures were dispersed during his lifetime, and our exhibition 'Man and Beast' is the first time they've ever been displayed together.
Installation view of the ‘Francis Bacon: Man and Beast’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (29 January – 17 April 2022) showing Francis Bacon, 'Study for Bullfight No. 1', 1969. Private collection.