Painted towards the end of 1963, Portrait of Henrietta Moraes is perhaps the most seductive painting of a female figure ever realized by Francis Bacon. Created the year after his breakthrough retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London in 1962, and the same year as his first major American exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the painting depicts the artist's close friend and notorious bonne vivante Henrietta Moraes. It represents part of the pantheon of great paintings by Bacon executed in 1963, the majority of which are now housed in major international museum collections.
In Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, Bacon has perfected the subject's body, carrying it out with a prodigious use of rapid, impulsive brush marks. Standing out proudly from a vivid lilac ground, Henrietta lies undressed in all her voluptuous glory on a simple ticking mattress, unflinching and brazenly exposed like an odalisque. For Bacon, this visceral quality and the sheer physicality of his model's body was a source of constant rapture—despite his lack of personal erotic interest in women. Indeed he returned to Moraes as a subject for more than 16 paintings over the course of his career including Three Studies for the Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Main image: Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Portrait of Henrietta Moraes.© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015