Study for the nurse in the film “Battleship Potemkin”, 1957

The painting was inspired by a distressing scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s film “Battleship Potemkin” (1925): the close-up view of a screaming woman whose right eye is a bloody wound. Bacon has undressed his hysterical figure, placed her in a bare room, and further isolated her with thin, light-hued lines alluding to a glass box or cage. What is more, his painterly treatment of her face and body is so “crude” and so dynamic that we have the impression of a human being maltreated to the utmost degree, right at this very never-ending instant. Thoughts of violence, murder and torture come to mind.

Yet the painting has no storyline. The pain remains unexplained, we learn nothing about the who or the why. The scene thus defies unequivocal interpretation. And indeed, Bacon never wanted to be interpreted, but rather experienced by the viewer. It was for this reason as well that he insisted on the work’s conspicuous glazing: the viewer and the subject merge in the strong reflection of the glass. Hardly any artist of the twentieth century succeeded in concentrating the brutality of the age on canvas to such a degree as Bacon.

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Oil on canvas
198 × 142 cm
Inv. No. SG 1248

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