Equally imposing in its architectural grandeur as it is expressive of Bacon’s superb handling of paint, Untitled (Landscape) demonstrates the artist’s conscientious appropriation of Nazi imagery during the war. Whilst he was not conscripted to the army due to his asthma, the artist served as a warden in 1941/42 and witnessed the bombings of his neighbourhood in Kensington and Chelsea. The existential fear of mortality that held London in a grip during these dark years, as well as the artist’s own compulsion to react to the overwhelming events, acted as a catalyst for the three surviving paintings he made circa 1942. As one of this select group of works, Untitled (Landscape) is of momentous historical significance, since the three paintings constitute a direct precursor to Bacon’s famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion from 1944, now in the collection of Tate Britain. The imposing colonnade in the painting was an early architectural exploration for the triptych, in which outlines of the receding building are echoed in the background of all three canvasses.
The present work is also a very early example of Bacon’s interest in photography, which would profoundly influence the development of his unique visual language. The painting in fact relates to an image of Adolf Hitler in front of a neo-classical building designed by Alfred Speer, which the artist found in a magazine from 1940. Appropriating the visual rhetoric of the fascist architecture, Bacon exposes the inherent danger in such monumental designs at a moment at which many had not yet reflected on the implications of its seductive grandeur – a theme that would preoccupy some of the most important post-war artists over the following decades. Not only is Untitled (Landscape) therefore a monumental testimony to the artistic explorations that characterise Francis Bacon’s influential practice, the work is also of paramount academic and historical importance as a document of the fragility of life in one of history’s darkest moments.
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