All too human. Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life. (Exhibition review)

Renaissance painters painted men and women making them look like angels. I paint for angels, to show them what men and women really look like.’ (F.N.Souza 1962)

I think this quote could be a fitting introduction to this exhibition. ‘All too human’ in the title might suggest focus on portraiture, but this is misleading. Painting life in a very broad sense is the overall theme. Most of the artists featured in the exhibition were based in London. The city and its inhabitants often appeared in their works. Paintings by Bacon and Freud are displayed alongside the works of their contemporaries (including David Bomberg, William Coldstream, Euan Uglow and F.N. Souza), and are then followed by the youngest generation of artists, whose names might be less familiar, such as Jenny Saville and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Each room is very different. I particularly liked the one devoted to F.N. Souza (1924-2002). Souza’s subjects range from Christian iconography, nudes and portraits to works referencing contemporary events, such as the Negro in Mourning (1957), which was painted around the time of London race riots. I admired Jesus and Pilatus, a very original painting based on the story from the New Testament in the form of a double portrait. Both Jesus and Pontius Pilate look precisely ‘all too human’.

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F.N. Souza Jesus and Pilatus (c.1955-6, oil paint on board, on loan from Jane and Kito de Boer collection, photo Ground Impressions)

While Lucian Freud’s honest nudes, or Francis Bacon’s troubling figurative paintings might not be to everyone’s liking, there are many great works by less known artists. Among the most interesting ones are David Bomberg’s stunning Toledo from Alcazar (1929) and expressive cityscapes of London by Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.

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David Bomberg Toledo from Alcazar (1929, oil paint on canvas, loaned by Daniel Katz Gallery, photo: Ground Impressions)
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General view from the exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain. Leon Kossoff. On the left Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning (1990), on the right Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon (1971) both owned by Tate, photo: Ground Impressions.
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Frank Auerbach St Pancras Steps (1978-9, oil paint on canvas, on loan from Touchstones Rochdale, photo: Ground Impressions)

All Too Human showcases a wide range of works produced in the last hundred years by more than twenty London-based painters. The first nine rooms are dominated by works of male painters. Female artists appear only near the end of the exhibition – there is the Paula Rego room, followed by a selection of contemporary works painted exclusively by female painters in the very last room.

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General view from the exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain showing triptych by Paula Rego – The Betrothal: Lessons: The Shipwreck, after ‘Marriage a la Mode’ by Hogarth (1999) Photo: Ground Impressions
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General view from the exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain. On the left Coterie of questions (2015) by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. On the right detail of Reverse (2002-3) by Jenny Saville. Photo: Ground Impressions.

Right outside the main exhibition area the visitors can see clips from documentaries featuring some of the artists directed by Jake Auerbach (acclaimed filmmaker, son of Frank Auerbach). There is also a nice selection of artists’ quotes on one of the walls. Overall, seeing All Too Human was a good opportunity to discover works of less known, but very talented artists.

 

All Too Human. Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life. Tate Britain (28 February till 27 August 2018)

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