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Jenny Saville - Reverse 2002-3
Jenny Saville (b. 1970) “Reverse” (2002-3). Oil paint on canvas, 2134 x 2438 mm© Jenny Saville. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

This new exhibition explores the intensity of life

The works of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville, and more, come together in an invigorating show that celebrates how artists captured the reality of post-war life on canvas

In one of his last interviews, published by The Times in 2012, artist Lucian Freud explained, “I'm trying to relay something of who they are as a physical and emotional presence. I want the paint to work as flesh does.” It’s a desire that has laid the groundwork for an entire exhibition, which opens today at Tate Britain.

Described as a “landmark exhibition”, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud, and a Century of Painting Life – a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s book of the same name – brings together over 100 works by some of Britain’s most celebrated modern artists in an attempt to explore the ways in which life has been captured on the canvas. Forget idealisation; this is reality.

At its core, All Too Human presents the works of members of the School of London – including R.B. Kitaj, who founded the group, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Leon Kossoff. Speaking at the press preview, Alex Farquharson, director of the Tate Britain, said that the show lifts the lid on “The human and social experience in the aftermath of World War II, and the revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust.” He added that these artists rose at a time that came “without the certainties that had previously defined British society.”

Artists outside of the group help to connect the history of figurative painting in the 20th and 21st century. F.N. Souza and Paula Rego broaden the exploration of the show, whereas Walter Sickert, David Bomberg, and Stanley Spencer – all born in the last decade of the 18th century – reveal the roots of the movement.

The final room brings us to a more contemporary time. Displaying the works of four women artists such as Jenny Saville, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Cecily Brown, and Celia Paul, these works show the ways in which a younger generation continue to find inspiration in the everyday reality – often mundanity – of life.

As show title suggests, the works of Bacon and Freud are displayed throughout, used as touch points for the show’s themes. Both major and rarely seen works from each artist are on display, such as Bacon’s painting of Freud, titled “Study of Portrait of Lucian Freud” (1964), which is being shown for the first time since 1965.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud, and a Century of Painting Life – by Elena Crippa, curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, and Laura Castagnini, assistant curator – runs at London’s Tate Britain 28 February – 27 August 2018