Dark, Macabre, Grotesque Themes in Art

Dark, Macabre, Grotesque Themes in Art
Dark, Macabre, and Grotesques themes in art can best be described as your worst nightmares. Why would artists choose to express themselves in this way? I’ll discuss my interpretations.

This may sound strange, but some artists throughout history have been fascinated by raw meat. Yes, you heard me correctly. Meat was, and always will be, a food source - certainly a suitable subject for art patrons.

Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger painted "Butcher Shop" (1642), a room where a woman preparing food, shares the canvas with slaughtered cattle. This painting can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn would paint "Carcass of Beef" or "Flayed Ox" in 1655. This painting can be seen at the Louvre, Paris.

In 1923 Russian expressionist artist Chaim Soutine would paint... you guessed it... "Le Boeuf" or "Beef" - one in a series of ten butcher shop paintings that would singularly sell for $18 million in 2013.

Spaniard Diego Velazquez painted "Portrait of Pope Innocent X" (1650). This appears to be a straightforward portrait of a leader of the Catholic Church who was deemed an ineffective leader.

But what happens when a carcass of beef (meant by the artist to look like wings) collides with a pope’s portrait? The end result is Francis Bacon’s "Figure with Meat" (1954), aka the "Screaming Pope". I was delighted to see this painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Upon visiting London a few years ago, I was eager to view more Bacons, but assuming I would see them at the Tate Modern, I missed seeing "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion" (1944) which can be seen at Tate Britain. Maybe on my next visit.
From September 2008 – January 2009, Tate Britain would have a Francis Bacon exhibit. Since we’re discussing beef here - in Bacon’s words - he said "we are potential carcasses."

On the Tate Britain website, you can watch an interview with Damien Hirst discussing Francis Bacon, whose work he loved as a child. Hirst claims his early works were "bad Bacons" and Bacon’s paintings "reminded him of places he’d seen in nightmares."

Other macabre works by Francis Bacon are: "Crucifixion" (1965), a triptych of blood and guts, and "Three Studies for a Crucifixion" (1962) triptych. These are also discussed by Hirst on "Tate Shots."

Pablo Picasso influenced Francis Bacon, who, in turn, influenced Damien Hirst. In 1992, Hirst would construct a 3-D work, "A Thousand Years" in homage to Francis Bacon. The enclosed glass would display a severed cow’s head with flies, in their varied life cycles (maggots included).

Francis Bacon was delighted by this work which he was able to see before his death in 1992.

The subjects of life and death are not new to the art world, but some works are more graphic than others. Even if you wouldn’t consider them as your 'top picks', I suggest you remain open minded in viewing art.

You can own "Francis Bacon" a hardcover book by Rizzoli, available here, from Amazon.com.

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This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.