Exactly as the title suggests “Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture” the exhibition at The Grimaldi Forum focuses on the extraordinary influence of French culture on Bacon’s practice. The artist was immediately taken by France after he first visited Paris at the end of the 1920s, and so began a long love affair with the country, which culminated in what he considered to be his greatest achievement—his retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. An exhibition only once before bestowed on a living artist (Picasso), and an honor he cherished despite being awarded two Tate retrospectives in 1962 and 1985.

The exhibition is curated by Martin Harrison, the author of the recently published Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné, 2016. The curator’s ten-year research is incredibly in depth and he masterfully brings to the fore Bacon’s influences and sheds new light on the artist’s oeuvre—who would have thought, for instance, that Bacon was so moved by works by Van Gogh that he painted portraits of him in his signature style in 1957?

Francis Bacon in Monte-Carlo, 1981. Right: Francis Bacon in Vaux-Le-Vicomte, December, 1977

Harrison brings together famous triptychs as well as less renowned works, which are displayed thematically, highlighting the relationship between his work and France and Monaco. More than 66 paintings by the artist have been collected for the exhibition as well as works by Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, and Chaim Soutine, which have all been cross-referenced with Bacon’s paintings.  Many of the works by Bacon have never been exhibited before, including one of his last ever paintings, For Study of a Bull, 1991. 

All in all this is a thrilling new take on the artist who has always been linked with the decadent streets and pubs of Soho, London. But perhaps this should not come as such a shock as the only Francis Bacon Foundation in the world is actually established in Monaco. It has often been remarked that one of Monaco and Monte Carlo’s biggest attractions for Bacon were the casinos. On his gambling obsession Bacon once remarked in an interview in 1962 that he would often visit them “at 10 in the morning and needn’t come out till about four the following morning.”

More than anything the exhibition sheds light on Bacon before 1960, a period that “we know almost nothing about”, according to Martin Harrison. “But when you put the evidence together, you’re forced to the conclusion that Francis Bacon, as we understand him today, was formed in Monaco.”

The Exhibition “Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture” runs from the 2nd of July through to the 4th of September 2016.