All too human: Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life

I want the paint to work as flesh does.

Lucian Freud

Raw sensation

Tate Britain’s landmark exhibition All Too Human tells the story of figurative painting in the 20th century, focusing on two giants of modern British art, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

The exhibition looks at artists who caught the sensuous and intense experience of life in paint, from Freud’s ruthless depiction of the human body to Bacon’s tortured souls, as well as contemporaries such as Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, R B Kitaj and Leon Kossoff; and the two generations before them, including Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg and Walter Sickert.

The headline act has to be Francis Bacon’s large-scale portrait of Lucian Freud, which hasn’t been seen in public for half a century. Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud was painted in 1964, showing a bare-chested and rather angry-looking Freud awkwardly seated and staring hard at something the viewer cannot see. The two artists were close friends from when they first met in the 1940s, although they later fell out.

Freud and Bacon were part of the School of London, a group of figurative artists working in the capital in the 1970s, after an exhibition of their work at the Hayward Gallery in 1976. (NB, the Hayward Gallery has just reopened following a two-and-a-half-year refit with a retrospective on the work of the German photographer Andreas Gursky – on until 22 April).

Missing in action

One notable absence from the exhibition is Freud’s 1952 portrait of Bacon, described by the art critic Robert Hughes as having “the silent intensity of a grenade in the millisecond before it goes off.” It was the only portrait of Bacon that Freud ever completed, a small postcard-size close-up of his friend’s face, painted in oil on copperplate and bought by Tate the year it was painted. Sadly the picture was stolen from a Berlin gallery in 1988 and has never resurfaced. Freud made an appeal for its return in 2001, after the 12-year statute of limitations for theft in Germany was up, with a ‘Wanted’ poster plastered around Berlin, but, despite the offer of a £100,000 reward, it has never been recovered. 

Find out more


28 February - 27 August 2018


Tate Britain

Opening hours

Tickets are by timed entry for this exhibition, with entry from 10am to 4.30pm. The gallery closes at 6pm daily.

Extended opening hours for Late at Tate Britain (6pm to 9.30pm) on Fridays 6 April, 1 June & 3 August 2018.