Throughout his career, Bacon consciously and carefully avoided explaining the meaning behind his paintings, and pointedly observed that they were not intended as narratives, nor open to interpretation. Triptych 1974-77, is the last in the great series of triptych art that Bacon painted in response to the tragic death of his lover George Dyer in 1971. Many of Bacon’s works after that date - marking what David Sylvester maintained was the absolute ‘peak period’ of Bacon’s entire career - were preoccupied with Dyer.
Triptych 1974-77 sold for £26 million in 2008, becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold at Christie’s in London and the most valuable Post-War and Contemporary work sold in Europe. Painted between May and June of 1974 and revisited in 1977, this great, strangely open, Baconian landscape was immediately recognized as a major landmark in his oeuvre.
In each panel, Dyer is framed by a doorway, and set against a flat, anonymous foreground coloured with black and brown hues. In the left frame, he is seated on a toilet with his head crouched between his knees as if in pain. Although his arched back, thighs and legs are lovingly painted, Dyer is by now clearly a broken man. This central panel shows Dyer sitting on the toilet bowl in a more contemplative pose, his head and upper body writhing beneath a hanging lightbulb which throws a large bat-like shadow formed in the shape of a demon.
In the right panel, Dyer is shown with his eyes shut, vomiting into a hand basin. In the two outer frames his figure is shadowed by arrows, pictorial devices that Bacon often used to place a sense of energy into his paintings. In this work, the arrows point to a man about to die, the arrow of the right panel, according to critics, points to a dead figure on the lavatory bowl.
When challenged with the observation this triptych canvas piece, was the nearest the artist had come to telling a story, Bacon admitted that it was the nearest he had ever done to a story, because it is the triptych of how his lover was found. It has been noted that in the portrayal of Dyer's tragic suicide life seems to visibly drain from Dyer's body, the work is on display at the Tate Modern for those of us who don’t have £26 million sitting around.
The Canvas Art Shop