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Press release

  • 2 September 2008

Lecture focuses on film and Francis Bacon

rancis Bacon pictured with David Alan Mellor and his son Leo in 1987. Photo: Nicholas Sinclair

Francis Bacon pictured with David Alan Mellor and his son Leo in 1987. Photo: Nicholas Sinclair

One of the 20th century's greatest artists, Francis Bacon, is the subject of a special lecture to be given by University of Sussex art historian David Alan Mellor - one of the few Bacon scholars alive today who actually knew the painter.

Professor Mellor, who has curated exhibitions of Bacon's paintings and is an academic authority on his work, met Bacon a few years before the artist's death in 1992.

Professor Mellor's lecture is a timely one. Next year is the 100th anniversary of Bacon's birth, while this month an exhibition devoted to his work opens at London's Tate Britain. Professor Mellor has written one of the essays - on Bacon's relationship with film - for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition.

Professor Mellor says: "Bacon was taken by an exhibition I curated at the Barbican Art Gallery, in 1987, called A Paradise Lost. He was surprised that I'd used photographs of birds by Eric Hoskins, a photographer he admired: but I had no prior knowledge that he liked his work and it was only a hunch of mine that made me put them in the show."

The lecture will focus specifically on the influence of cinema and photography. Professor Mellor says: "From the Hollywood film Lust for Life to the classics of German expressionist cinema and Soviet film, the shocks and impacts of cinematic and photographic experience shaped Bacon's art."

An example of the connection between Bacon's art and film is illustrated by an event recalled by Professor Mellor: "Bacon was very keen to meet the veteran English film director Michael Powell [The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus], who had directed a film called Peeping Tom at the end of the 1950s, which interested him very much. This was at a point when Powell, then in his 80s, was under the wing of Martin Scorsese, in Hollywood, but was visiting London. I arranged for the two to get together for a viewing of the film - an historic meeting which actually was dashed when Powell had to return abruptly to the US."

There were new insights to be gained from the man himself, which have gone into the catalogue essay but, Professor Mellor says: "Essentially Bacon disliked talking about art, but we had a common interest because of an aspect of our rather poor health: medication, specifically inhalers, for the treatment of asthma.

Bacon is celebrated alongside the likes of Picasso for his portrayals of humans and animals, but his personal life earned him a certain notoriety. Professor Mellor, however, remembers him as "a very sympathetic man whose humour could be sardonic, but who was attentive and kind to my son Leo, who was then not ten years old and was a fellow asthma sufferer."

The University of Sussex connection with Francis Bacon does not end there: one of the curators of the Tate Britain exhibition is Dr Chris Stephens, whose doctoral thesis at Sussex was supervised by Professor Mellor in the 1990s.

Notes for editors

David Alan Mellor's Professorial lecture "I think I might even make a film...". Francis Bacon: cinema, photography and fantasy, takes place on Tuesday 18 November, at 6:30pm at the Chowen lecture theatre, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex. The lecture is one of four professorial lectures and other events that form the autumn term's Sussex Lecture series. Other events include a lecture celebrating the Library's collection of Rudyard Kipling papers and a multimedia exhibition of the life and work of Lord Healey. The events are free of charge and open to all who send an email RSVP to or call 01273 877707. Selected lectures will also be made available online after the event. To view these and others, see: Sussex Lectures Archive web pages

The Sussex Lectures are co-ordinated by the Development and Alumni Relations Office as part of a programme of activities aimed to promote Sussex's excellent research and teaching, and to provide opportunities for our alumni and friends to celebrate and support this work.


For details of Tate Britain's Francis Bacon exhibition (11 September 2008 to 4 January 2009) visit: Tate


University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email


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