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Avinoam B. Safran, Nicolae Sanda, José-Alain Sahel; Francis Bacon’s Distorted Representation of Faces Presumably Reflects Occipital Dysfunction. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2012;53(14):4846.
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Francis Bacon was a major twentieth century painter known for his figural images expressing isolation, horror, anger, and degradation. His works consistently depict mutilated, tortured faces. These impressive features are commonly interpreted by art critics as a reflection of the distress Bacon experienced in his life. We conducted a study to determine whether Bacon’s painting distorted features show a specific and interpretable pattern.
Face appearance was analyzed in 25 Francis Bacon’s paintings. In addition, Bacon’s comments on his own artistic achievements were collected from various publications, and analyzed considering our observations from the picture examination.
In Bacon’s paintings, we found that features of facial dysmorphia included the following: (1) dark or grayish, well delineated areas, located either paracentrally or pericentrally, as a rule on the right side, but occasionally affecting only or also the left side; (2) face distortion around above mentioned dark or grayish areas, shifting face structures toward or away from these areas; (3) delineated areas of color desaturation, as a rule situated on the affected side; (4) more rarely, glittering strings bordering above mentioned dark or grayish delineated areas. In his comments, Bacon provided indications suggesting that he presumably experienced paroxysmal visual percepts, which however he did not precisely define. It appears that he also was severely ill since childhood, mainly suffering from pronounced asthma.
Faces painted by Bacon show a distinct dysmorphic pattern, suggesting that the artist experienced presumably paroxysmal alterations in visual perception, due to occipital dysfunction. Differential diagnosis includes migraine with visual aura, and occipital epilepsy. It is conceivable that occipital lesions have occurred following hypoxic episodes due to his severe asthmatic crises. Art critics fail to consider the possibility the organic alteration in painter’s visual system.
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