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Looking back at Francis Bacon

David Sylvester


A unique portrait of one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century, by the distinguished critic David Sylvester


Controversial in both life and art, Francis Bacon was one of the most important painters of the 20th century. His monumental, unsettling images have an extraordinary power to disturb, shock and haunt the spectator, ‘to unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently’.

Drawing on his personal knowledge of Bacon’s inspirations, intentions and working methods, David Sylvester surveys the development of the work from 1933 to the early 1990s, and discusses critically a number of its crucial aspects.

He also reproduces previously unpublished extracts from his celebrated conversations with Bacon in which the artist speaks about himself, modern painters and the art of the past. Finally, Sylvester gives a brief account of Bacon’s life, correcting certain errors that elsewhere have been presented as facts.

Divided into the sections ‘Review’, ‘Reflections’, ‘Fragments of Talk’ and ‘Biographical Note’, Looking Back at Francis Bacon is a unique portrait of one of the creative geniuses of our age by a writer of comparable distinction.

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'Highly enjoyable, and sealed with insider authority … a primary document of Baconology … Sylvester brings out what was lovable in his great friend'
Julian Bell, London Review of Books

'A measured look at the legacy of a great artist … Sylvester is Bacon's representative on this earth, a Boswell to his talk, a cicerone to his paintings'
Richard Shone, Guardian

'Reading David Sylvester on art is like being provided for a while with the ideal companion in one's gallery of choice'
The Art Newspaper

'An extended rumination on Bacon which throws a great deal of light, not only on what made the painter so good, but also on what makes Sylvester so good … as it is, it seems most unlikely that any text will ever get closer than this to the truth about Francis Bacon, as man and artist'
Martin Gayford, The Spectator

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback with flaps

Size: 26.8 x 21.6 cm

Extent: 272 pp

Illustrations: 230

Publication date: 13 January 2022

ISBN: 9780500296479

About the Author

David Sylvester CBE (1924–2001) was a prominent writer, art critic and curator, and a leading authority on René Magritte, Henry Moore and, in particular, Francis Bacon. He first wrote about Bacon’s work in the late 1940s, and the pair soon became close friends. Over the next forty years, he was Bacon’s Boswell, interpreter, confidant, occasional model and briefly agent. He curated or co-curated numerous major exhibitions at museums around the world, including one-man shows of Picasso, Miró, Magritte, Moore, Giacometti and Bacon. His published books include Interviews with Francis Bacon and the five-volume Magritte catalogue raisonné.