Head VI is a 1949 painting by the Irish-born, English figurative artist Francis Bacon. It is the last of six panels making up his “1949 Head” series, which are largely modeled on Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. Applying forceful, expressive brush strokes, Bacon placed the figure within a draped glass cage. The intended effect is of a man trapped and suffocated by his surroundings, screaming into an airless void. Head VI was the first of Bacon’s paintings to reference Velázquez, whose portrait of Pope Innocent X haunted Bacon and inspired his series of over 45 “screaming popes”. Head VI contains many figurations that were to reappear throughout his career; the geometric cages are present as late as the 1985–86 Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych. In 1949 Bacon was a highly controversial artist, best known for his 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, and as the enfant terrible of British art. The curator Lawrence Gowing wrote that the “shock of the picture, when it was seen with a whole series of heads … was indescribable. It was everything unpardonable.” Today the panel is considered among Bacon’s finest.
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