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Beyeler to reunite Giacometti and Bacon

Swiss museum to stage show on the artists, who first met in the early 1960s, in time for Art Basel in 2018

by Martin Bailey  |  13 June 2017
Beyeler to reunite Giacometti and Bacon
Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1965 (Photo: © Graham Keen)
Giacometti and Bacon will be the stars of the Fondation Beyeler’s main exhibition next year, which is due to coincide with Art Basel 2018. The show is being organised by the Fondation Beyeler’s curator, Ulf Küster, Catherine Grenier, the director of the Fondation Giacometti, and Michael Peppiatt, an expert on Bacon and Giacometti.

Peppiatt promises that “the sheer visual excitement of two great 20th-century masters” will make this a major show. Discussions are taking place about a second venue for the Bacon-Giacometti exhibition after Basel (29 April-2 September 2018), possibly in the US.

Francis Bacon with one of his paintings at the Tate Gallery in 1985 (Photo: PA Archive/PA Images)
Peppiatt sees strong parallels between the art and lives of the two artists. Both were strongly influenced by Surrealism and worked in a figurative style at a time when abstraction was “becoming louder”. They were existentialists, avid readers, deeply affected by the Second World War and lived in chaos. With huge drive, both proved to be survivors.

Peppiatt says that the two men first met in Paris in the early 1960s: “Bacon told me that he had gone up to Giacometti in a café in St Germain, probably Les Deux Magots or Flore, to say he admired his work.”

Swiss-born Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) was eight years older than the UK artist Francis Bacon (1909-92). They met again a few years later, probably through their mutual friend Isabel Rawsthorne, who was Giacometti’s lover and also modelled for both artists. Peppiatt says that on one occasion the two artists stayed up all night talking. They remained friends until Giacometti’s death in 1966.

The artists had two motifs in common: the scream and the cage. Both used a cage-like device in their compositions to create space and perspective and to concentrate attention on the central figure. Giacometti led the way, influencing his younger contemporary. Bacon once introduced his friend Daniel Farson to Giacometti, saying: “This is the man who has influenced me more than anyone.” There are, of course, also considerable differences in their work. “They were both X-raying their figures, but whereas Giacometti was stick-like in his depictions, Bacon was decidedly fleshy,” Peppiatt says.

Works by the two artists will be intermingled at the Fondation Beyeler. The majority of the Giacometti loans are to come from the Fondation Giacometti, with works by Bacon coming from a wide range of lenders, including a number of Swiss owners.

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