Created in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Painting is an oblique but damning image of an anonymous public figure. The umbrella that partially obscures him might refer to Neville Chamberlain, the prewar British prime minister who was known for carrying one. His dark suit—the unofficial uniform of British politicians of the day—is punctuated by an incongruous bright yellow boutonniére, yet his deathly complexion and toothy grimace suggest a deep brutality beneath his proper exterior. In the background, three window shades evoke those found in an often-circulated photograph of Hitler’s bunker, an image the artist included in multiple works. The sense of menace is accentuated by glaring colors and the cow carcasses suspended in a cruciform behind him, a motif drawn from Bacon’s childhood fascination with butcher shops, but also a possible reference to Old Master treatments of the same subject.
Gallery label from Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War, October 24, 2015-March 20, 2016.