The clothes in Francis Bacon’s paintings are as fascinating as the subjects

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Francis Bacon had a masterful and, like his style, unnerving way of reproducing clothing in his paintings. He would collect dust around his London studio, a genius’ cottage in South Kensington that has graced a million art books and online mood boards – a cramped explosion of paint, dark wood, ephemera, crusted brushes, stained mirrors and a deep dark Feeling – before taking the required amount, an immeasurable amount, and mixing it with the oil paints he’d favored over the years.

“If you look closely at the paintings in person, the clothes in them have this slightly furry look,” says Michael Peppiatt over the phone, the author, art expert, historian, and key connoisseur of Bacon, who curated the landmark new show at the RA, Francis Bacon: Man and BeasT. “I remember he said something about how he was able to paint a perfect flannel suit thanks to that dust… and he was right. He could. Above all, he is – he was – just a wonderful painter. He let it speak. The actual grain of the color comes out and speaks very directly to the eye.”

David Heil

The show, which spans Bacon’s 50-year career, focuses primarily on what the RA describes as: “Bacon’s undeniable fascination with animals: how it has both shaped and distorted his approach to the human body; how, caught in the most extreme moments of existence, his characters are barely recognizable as human or animal.” “He was looking for a more spontaneous and accurate depiction of human behavior when observing animals,” says Preppiat. “They went about their daily lives less inhibited. They have acted the way they have acted while people hide their true feelings.”

On a gloomy day in late January, I stand inside the RA in a room painted a menacing somber green figure study 1, which Bacon completed between 1945 and 1946. The background is a dangerous orange dripping with dark matter, while in the foreground a not-quite-human body is smothered in a herringbone cloak. The description is morbid and wonderful “the body protrudes from the garment like a snake shedding its skin”. There is studio dust in there somewhere that transforms the coat into something alive and something decaying, the case makes it look luxurious; The fraying and decay around the edges make it look awful. I stare at it for 10 minutes without moving. I have to remember to blink.

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