Student blog

Hanging out with Francis Bacon

Suzy Seed study of Van Gogh

Study for a portrait of Van Gogh

One of the best things about returning to my hometown for the summer is the wealth of art on tap here in Norwich. We currently have not only a Jeff Koons exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum but a John Golding exhibition AND a Francis Bacon and the Masters at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, and that is just the tip of the cultural iceberg (I love Norwich - can you tell?!)

The Sainsbury Centre - photo credit Chris Ridley

Photo courtesy of

The Sainsbury Centre has long been one of my most favourite places, thanks to not only the Norman Foster architecture but also the variety of art it has to offer. One of the corridors of the building features in the Avengers: Age of Ultron film and I can remember the excitement last summer when Robert Downey Jr. was on site, meeting and greeting his fans in-between filming. Although I was a matter of about 20 metres away from him at the time, I didn't know until it was too late so missed out on a stalking opportunity. I'm sure he is very disappointed to have missed out meeting me.

Much like how the Tate Galleries were founded by the Tate and Lyle sugar family, the Sainsbury Centre was founded by, you guessed it, Robert and Lisa Sainsbury of the supermarket family. They were friends and keen supporters of Francis Bacon; the centre owns a lot of his work and you can see a selection of this at any time in their permanent collection. I love this letter from Bacon to 'Bob' (Robert) which indicates the impact Robert and Lisa had on the Norwich Art scene, and continue to have:

Letter dated 15 May 1978

15/5/78 Wivenhoe
Dear Bob
I went to Norwich last week and saw your magnificent collection of sculptures I think it has been superbly shown and the building is also really magnificent it is hardly possible to believe the same architect was concerned with Beaubourg which to me is a mess - You and Lisa have really made a wonderful gift to the nation
with all very best wishes to you both

Since April this year, you have been able to see an entire exhibition of his work at the Sainsbury Centre, alongside the work of many of the inspirational Masters such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Titian, Matisse and Van Gogh and also Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiques.

"Francis Bacon and the Masters forms the culmination of the celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg coincides with the UK/Russia Year of Culture in the UK. The exhibition, a result of four and a half years of planning is a historic collaboration between the Sainsbury Centre and State Hermitage Museum and is the first in an ongoing relationship.
Masterpieces on loan from the Hermitage include those by artists such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo, Rodin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse. Many of these works have never before been shown in the UK."

The blurb on the SCVA shows you just what an important collection this is, and how lucky we are to have it here in Norwich (A Fine City - have I mentioned that yet?!)

Francis Bacon art 1

Bacon isn't to everyone's taste. On the one hand you have people like my friend Justyna, who adore him. On the other hand there is Ivy, daughter of my friend Jennie who was frightened by his paintings and not at all impressed. I'm somewhere in the middle, I have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy him otherwise it just depresses me. I prefer looking at photographs of his studio, and the handwritten letters he wrote to the Sainsburys than looking at his paintings but luckily this exhibition has something to please everyone, and it is great to see the juxtaposition between the masters and their traditional styles, and Bacon and his modern ideas and methods.

Francis Bacon art 2

One of the paintings that scared young Ivy...

One of the many hand written letters you can see as part of the exhibition:

Letter dated 3 December 1955

9 Overstrand Mansions
Prince of Wales Drive
Dec 3rd
Dear Bob,
I am in rather bad money difficulties for the next 3 months and I wondered if you could possibly lend me £400 until the beginning of April when I could repay you I entirely understand if you cannot do this and I hate asking you. The trouble is that the work has not been coming off in the sense that I have not been able to finish things but I feel it is really getting better. but in the meantime I have got terribly into debt. I could repay you in April without fail. It has been so good of Lisa to come and sit so often. I feel terribly depressed that the portrait has not come off but I would like to make another attempt after Christmas if she has the  time.
best wishes
Yours Francis
Photo of Francis Bacon
I'm off to the Koons exhibition this week - maybe I will find my very own Robert and Lisa to help fund my career!