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Bacon, Freud and the School of London

26 Apr. - 17 Sep. 2017

In the 1950s a small group of painters who shared the same artistic concerns and were connected by ties of friendship and mutual admiration explored the appearance and vulnerability of the body, with the city of London as their surrounding context. Through the depiction of the figure and their own everyday landscape, these artists conveyed the delicacy and vitality of the human condition while simultaneously developing new approaches and styles, reinventing their manner of representing life with pronounced individuality and imbuing painting with a rare intensity.

This exhibition brought together Francis Bacon’s powerful solitude, Lucian Freud’s carnal angst, Michael Andrews’ encapsulated ego, Frank Auerbach’s three-dimensional painting, David Bomberg’s emotional force, William Coldstream’s rigorous measure, Ronald B. Kitaj’s multiplicity, Leon Kossoff’s visceral quality, Paula Rego’s subversion and Euan Uglow’s proportion, all of them artists associated with what has come to be referred to as the School of London, a label that has not, however, been accepted by art historians or by the artists themselves.

Exhibition organised by Tate, London, with the collaboration with Museo Picasso Málaga and the sponsorship of CaixaBank.

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After World War II, London assumed the position of Europe’s moral capital. The United Kingdom, which was not invaded in the war, played a strategic role at the end of the conflict and had welcomed refugees of all nationalities fleeing the Nazi regime. At the same time, continental Europe was recovering from invasion and destruction. It was in the British capital that this group of artists coincided, socialised and exhibited, rigorously evolving their own styles and existential positions but with the common denominator of favouring figuration over the prevailing abstraction. Through a markedly personal pictorial approach to the depiction of the human condition in its intimate life moments and encounters, their work emerged at a time when American art was enjoying a period of strength in contrast to a debilitated Europe in the process of reconstruction.

These painters, who knew each other and socialised in pubs in the Soho district of London, essentially painted people from their immediate circle such as the friends, relatives and lovers who were present in their daily lives. With Auerbach, Bomberg, Freud, Coldstream, Kossoff and Uglow, painting generally arose from a direct encounter with the motif to be depicted, frequently involving numerous sittings over a period of months or even years. In contrast, Andrews, Kitaj, Rego and above all Bacon tended to represent reality from the starting point of previously reproduced images, either in the form of photographs, films, books, magazines and newspapers or other works of art. In addition to depicting the human body these artists frequently focused their gaze on the landscape around them, specifically the streets of London where they lived. The urban landscape of a city that was being rebuilt after considerable wartime bombing offered a stimulating subject for these young painters, who continued to depict it on their canvases during the long years of reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s. Some also turned their attention in an occasional or systematic way to their immediate environment: their studio or less familiar landscapes encountered on their travels.

While most of the artists achieved critical recognition from the outset, public recognition was slower to arrive, primarily because art centred on the human figure was underestimated from the 1960s to the 1980s, years when abstraction and conceptual art were the prevailing forms of artistic expression. As the exhibition’s curator Elena Crippa has observed, for many years the work of these painters seemed to clash overtly with the artistic discourse of the time, but over the past few decades it has been reassessed and has now been located in a central position that allows for a “richer and more complex understanding of the art and culture of the post-war period.”






Ten lives, a city

Get to know the biographies of the artists present in Bacon, Freud and the School of London

Audio Tour

Ten commented works of the ten artists present in the exhibition


The keys to the exhibition, in this bilingual guide to download

Local English-speaking community

Guided tours and workshops for children and adults


8 and 15 Jun. 2017
Leading experts delved into the School of London and its circumstances. Audios available here


Jun.-Jul. 2017
Poetry in English has many devotees in Spain. This series of recitals was dedicated to them


Jun. 2017
Life drawing workshop for adults


Sat. 6 May and Sat. 16 Sept. 2017
A day to approach the work of the artists in the exhibition, from different perspectives and for all audiences

Summer cinema

Jul.- Sept. 2017
Guided visits to the exhibition and documentaries in the garden to explore the work of Bacon, Kitaj, Auerbach, Rego and Freud


Guided tours for upper secondary school students


Online resource

Ten lives, a city

Get to know the biographies of the artists present at the exhibition


Audio Tour

Commented works to approach the work of these ten painters

Introduction to the exhibition


With MPM Artistic Director, José Lebrero, and curator Elena Crippa