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Francis Bacon was in the news again this week when his painting Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus (1981) sold at auction in New York. Bacon painted the triptych in his 7 Reece Mews studio, which is now on public display at Hugh Lane Gallery. The gallery’s studio archive contains a number of items relating to the painting. A group of drawings of a headless kneeling figure closely relate to the strange figure in the central panel of the triptych.
Bacon often mounted source material onto card. He mounted photographs of diving pelicans from the book The Birds LIFE Nature Library by Roger Tory, which was found in the studio. The diving birds resemble the figure in the left-hand panel ofTriptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus.
Bacon often pinned up images of his own paintings for reference and two paint-splattered copies of a photo by Prudence Cumming of Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus were found in his studio. He also tore out illustrations of the left and centre panels from the catalogue to his 1985 Tate Gallery exhibition.
The Oresteia by the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus is a trilogy of plays that inspired Bacon throughout his life. The Francis Bacon Archive at Hugh Lane Gallery contains four copies of the book in different editions. The classical text inspired the shocking 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion (Tate). Having re-read Aeschylus he returned to the theme, stating “As for my latest triptych and a few other canvases painted after I re-read Aeschylus, I tried to create images of the sensations that some of the episodes created inside me. I could not paint Agamemnon, Clytemnestra or Cassandra, as that would have been merely another kind of historical painting when all is said and done. Therefore, I tried to create an image of the effect that was produced inside me.”