Francis Bacon and the Art of Ancient Egypt: A Selection from His Library

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This display from the Francis Bacon Archive focuses on Bacon’s collection of books on the art of ancient Egypt. Bacon’s studio and living quarters contained many books (and pages torn from books) on ancient Egyptian art and civilisation. Fingerprints and smudges of paint on many of these suggest that they were often consulted by the artist.

Bacon spoke of his admiration for ancient Egyptian sculpture in interviews. He remarked to Art International magazine in 1989, “I do think that Egyptian art is the greatest thing that has happened so far.”

He told David Sylvester in 1974: “I think that perhaps the greatest images that man has so far made have been in sculpture. I’m thinking of some of the great Egyptian sculpture, or course, and Greek sculpture too.” He found the fragmentary state of much ancient sculpture to be poignant.

The general influence of Egyptian sculpture on Bacon is particularly notable in his portraits of the 1950s. Bacon had visited Cairo in spring 1951, where he saw the Great Sphinx of Giza in person. The figure of the Sphinx appears in a number of works from the early 1950s, and again in 1979 in a posthumous portrait of Muriel Belcher (the proprietor of the Colony Room Club in Soho, which Bacon frequented).

Read more about Bacon’s book collection and browse the titles here.