All Too Human at Tate Britain
Looking at the full title of Tate Britain’s spring blockbuster, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, you might be forgiven for expecting this to be a show about Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, with a few other painters thrown in for context. And in some ways, it is. The two named artists (who, incidentally, shared an unlikely friendship) are at the heart of the exhibition, which features some of their most important works.
In effect, though, it is Bacon and Freud who provide the context here. As two of the best-loved and most expensive British painters out there, everyone knows their respective oeuvres. What this exhibition does effectively is to place these artistic titans as foils to the many other lesser-known artists who have done exciting things with figurative painting over the last 100 years.
The exposition is arguably a bit overlong, and the variety of pieces on show does get slightly overwhelming. The decision to include a single Giacometti sculpture, for example, seems rather gratuitous, as does the section dedicated to empty city scenes by Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.
Where the show really shines is in its exploration of depictions of the human figure, and particularly the various ways in which artists have portrayed flesh. From the grotesque to the tender, the whole range of human life is on view here. Occasionally voyeuristic and often uncomfortable, powerful images by Walter Sickert from the early 20th century stand out, as do stunning contemporary works by Cecily Brown and Jenny Saville. Another revelation is Paula Rego, whose 1988 portrait of herself and her daughters dressing her husband (who suffered from multiple sclerosis) is both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure.
All Too Human might have benefited from being more compact, but the life radiating from these pieces of art helps the paintings speak for themselves.
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life is at Tate Britain from 28th February until 27th August 2018. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.