Photo Evert Elzinga

140120 De Nieuwe Kerk continues its Masterwork series with an exceptional triptych by Francis Bacon

21 February 2014 – 30 March 2014

The Masterwork series in De Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, will continue with the presentation of Francis Bacon’s triptych In Memory of George Dyer (1971), starting on 21 February 2014. This remarkable work follows Rembrandt’s The Holy Family, presented in 2011, and Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper (pink) in 2012.

Bacon uses the triptych, a traditionally religious format, to create a memorial for George Dyer, who was his partner for more than seven years. Dyer had committed suicide in a Paris hotel room he shared with Bacon in 1971, two days before a major Bacon retrospective was to open in the Grand Palais. He is shown in the triptych in four different ways. The left panel depicts him as a boxer laid low on a racecourse. In the right panel, we see him twice: once in an upright position and once as a reflection on a small tabletop. Finally, he appears as a large, shadowy figure in the central panel, reaching out a muscular arm to put a key in the keyhole of a door. The austere atmosphere of this triptych accommodates both complex spirituality and emphatic physicality. Bacon portrays his friend as being suspended between two realities. The images are transfigurations, different moments in life, on the threshold between life and death.

The artist

140120 De Nieuwe Kerk continues its Masterwork series with an exceptional triptych by Francis Bacon

In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, triptych by Francis Bacon
Oil on canvas, each panel 198 x 147.5 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler collection
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel
© The estate of Francis Bacon, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2014

Francis Bacon (1909–1992) made portraits in which he distorted the faces and/or bodies of the figures to convey his subjects’ psychological and emotional state more fully. Bacon portrayed not their outer appearances, but their inner selves. His paintings are often grotesque, dark and even frightening in appearance. Many of his figures are lonely, desperate and depressed people living in a chaotic world, who have retreated into a dark, uncomfortably confined space. Bacon’s great breakthrough came in 1944, with the triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which he called ‘my ultimate masterpiece’. In the last twenty years of his life, much of his work reflected on the death of his lover Dyer. By 1974 he had finished two other triptychs on this theme. The three paintings form the the Black Triptychs series, which is among Bacon’s most poignant work. In November 2013 another Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, was auctioned off at Christie’s in New York for a record sum of 142.4 million dollars.

The series

In 2011, De Nieuwe Kerk launched its Masterwork series. Each year, it presents one masterpiece with a religious or spiritual dimension from a private or museum collection. The featured work of art may relate to any religion or life philosophy, but it is always a major work that calls for contemplation and introspection. Breathtakingly exhibited in the sanctuary, it offers the perfect reason for a ‘pilgrimage’. The latest Masterwork will be on display from Friday 21 February to Sunday 30 March 2014 in De Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam.

The Masterwork series in De Nieuwe Kerk is made possible by Stichting AMMODO.