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Study for a Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)
Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)
In 1955, artist Francis Bacon painted ‘Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)’ as part of a series of works he created based on Blake’s life mask. As the title implies, it is an attempt to tap into the fundamental nature of a portrait.
The painting is an emotional trigger, at first bringing forward feelings of pain, loneliness and death, but eventually invoking a sense of the spiritual, of the unknown. The pure black, perfectly smooth background not only creates a meaningful void around the skeletal head, but also produces a powerful contrast against the textured mauve and pink brushstrokes of the face, a dire image of flesh and bone.
Francis Bacon first saw the actual life mask of William Blake, poet and artist, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. Bacon used photographs of the mask, and thereafter obtained an actual casting of it. Before photography was invented, face masks made from moulds of the living and recently deceased were the most commonly used method of capturing keepsakes of loved ones in order to preserve their appearances.
Reviews and Interesting Facts
Jonathan Jones of the Guardian UK wrote in response to ‘Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake): “Bacon kept his own copy of Blake's life-mask next to treasured personal photographs. His painting feels as if it were based on a photograph. Bacon stresses the similarity of life-casting to photography, in order to reveal the deathliness and violence of both in rendering brute fact. His painting, however, apprehends something beneath the visible skin: an inner self, suffering in absolute isolation. This is a passionate and finally mysterious tribute from one great London artist to another.” – Guardian UK
In February 2007, ‘Study for Portrait II’, another piece in the series, painted in 1956, was sold at Christie’s auction house for $27.5 M. It was a record-breaking sale for Francis Bacon, and the second highest price ever obtained at an auction for a post-war art work.
‘Study for Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)’ is currently located at The Tate Gallery in London, England.