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Figure with Meat
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Rumor has it that this painting started off as a garden scene. The end result, Figure with Meat, is obviously a far cry from flowerbeds and butterflies.

Vegetarians be warned! This nightmarish scene is classic Francis Bacon- a psychological stare-down featuring a raw animal carcass to stimulate the olfactory senses. You see it, you smell it. Like the memory of a meat counter, the central figure screaming himself purple may also ring a bell for some. It’s a re-appropriation of Diego Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X. Bacon made some forty-five versions of Velázquez’s masterpiece, and this was the special one that made it to stardom.

Existential to the core, Bacon used to paint without knowing what he actually wanted to make…so the upshot was completely unpredictable. In this case, a garden scene transformed into a screaming pope with sitting in cleaved cow carcass. After World War II ended, Bacon felt like he had to tell the world what kind of mindless butchery went on in those years, in case they missed out. Hence all the bloody meat.

This gruesome painting also a glimpse into the mind of a real tortured artist – one who attempted to annihilate himself with endless debauchery, gambling and copious amounts of alcohol. All that plus a history of abuse as a child, could definitely make the mind a dark and twisty place. That screaming abyss of a mouth, framed by a hanging crucifix of meat, trapped in a steel cage, the black void of the background sucking you in, and possibly your soul out as well! It’s a regular house of horrors! Bacon makes sure that everyone gets a feel for his troubled state of mind.

Even if you didn’t know or care about the artist’s issues, this painting is rich with imagery that opens it up to many interpretations. It could allude to carnal desire, a hunger for power, deliverance, indulgence in things material and transient… or E) all of the above!

But what really gives Figure with Meat its claim to fame is a cameo in Tim Burton's delightfully weird and creepy "Batman" (1989). The infamous Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, destroys a whole bunch of paintings in the Gotham City Museum, but opts to leave this one, saying in that gravelly voice, “I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it.” If a wicked villain like the Joker is so fond of it, you know it’s something special. Or at least especially disturbing.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Figure with Meat

Figure with Meat is a 1954 painting by the Irish-born artist Francis Bacon. The figure is based on the Pope Innocent X portrait by Diego Velázquez; however, in the Bacon painting the Pope is shown as a gruesome figure and placed between two bisected halves of a cow. The carcass hanging in the background is likely derived from Rembrandt's Slaughtered Ox, 1655. The painting is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

According to Mary Louise Schumacher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bacon appropriated the famous portrait, with its subject, enthroned and draped in satins and lace, his stare stern and full of authority. In Bacon's version, animal carcasses hang at the pope's back, creating a raw and disturbing Crucifixion-like composition. The pope's hands, elegant and poised in Velázquez's version, are rough hewn and gripping the church's seat of authority in apparent terror. His mouth is held in a scream and black striations drip down from the pope's nose to his neck. It's as if Bacon picked up a wide house painting brush and brutishly dragged it over the face. The fresh meat recalls the lavish arrangements of fruits, meats and confections in 17th-century vanitas paintings, which usually carried subtle moralizing messages about the impermanence of life and the spiritual dangers of sensual pleasures. Sometimes, the food itself showed signs of being overripe or spoiled, to make the point. Bacon weds the imagery of salvation, worldly decadence, power and carnal sensuality, and he contrasts those things with his own far more palpable and existential view of damnation".

The painting is featured in Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, in a scene where the Joker and his henchmen destroy several works of art at the Gotham City Museum. However, the Joker spares Figure with Meat, saying, "I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it."

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Figure with Meat.