One of Kirklees most well- regarded painting’s Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II is to go on long-term display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, alongside its companion piece Figure Study I.
Francis Bacon is now recognised as one of the most influential painters of the second half of the twentieth century, although when Figure Study II was first exhibited in London in 1946 he was largely unknown outside a small group of fellow artists and critics. The artwork was purchased by the Contemporary Art Society from the exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery but it was not until 1952 that Ronald Gelsthorpe, the curator of Batley Art Gallery, accepted the Contemporary Art Society’s gift on behalf of Batley making it the second work by Bacon to enter a public collection, the first being Painting, 1946 acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Figure Study II is one of a series of paintings from the 1940s that feature a range of visual elements—coats, umbrellas, plants and flowers, and in this case a screaming figure—set in ambiguous interiors with an orange background. They represent the first group of works that Bacon was confident about exhibiting, having destroyed a number of earlier works from the 1930s. Figure Study I was acquired by National Galleries Scotland in 1998, despite the title it is a figure study only by implication as it is one of the few works produced by Bacon not to feature a figure, however it shares the same coat motif as Figure Study II and perhaps the deformed screaming figure is lurking under the coat waiting to emerge.
When not on loan, Figure Study II has been on permanent display at Huddersfield Art Gallery. Kirklees Museums & Galleries receive a huge number of requests from galleries who want to display this important example of Bacon’s artwork and it has been on loan to major exhibitions in London, Australia and Japan, raising Kirklees’ reputation in the UK and abroad. Most recently it formed part of the Invisible Rooms exhibition at Tate Liverpool which travelled to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany. The recent redisplay at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art presented the opportunity to display the two artworks together on the year of the 25th anniversary of Frances Bacon’s death (28 April 2017).
Caroline Douglas, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, said: “Figure Study II is one of the greatest acquisitions the Contemporary Art Society has ever made and the first painting by Francis Bacon to enter a public collection in this country. It is a tribute to the curator of the Batley Art Gallery at the time, Robert Gelsthorpe, that he selected a work for the museum that was, and remains, so disturbing and redolent of anguish. Its display with Figure Study I offers a rare opportunity to understand the artist’s thinking across two works from a critical moment of Bacon’s career”.
Councillor Graham Turner, Cabinet Member for Creative Kirklees said: “I am sure that many people will be delighted that this painting is being reunited with its companion, especially on this important anniversary. Seeing both paintings together will be a pleasure for the many Francis Bacon fans that will travel up to Scotland. For those closer to home I would like to encourage them to come to the Huddersfield Art Gallery and check out the wider collection of paintings. The Gallery is now open late on a Thursday so people can even drop in after work.”