Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone began at the Ashmolean on 12 September--but the exhibition's origins lie more than 40 years ago in the Oxford of the early 1970s.

Co-curator Richard Calvocoressi had recently begun studying English at Oxford when he attended a lecture held by the Critical Society that made a huge impression on him. Mr Calvocoressi, director of the Henry Moore Foundation, said: “The lecture which made the deepest impression on me was given to members of the society on 13 February 1970 by Francis Warner. A fellow and tutor in English literature at St Peter's College, Francis was energetic and inspiring.

“The subject of Francis's slide talk that evening was 'Francis Bacon and Henry Moore'. What I recall most clearly about it was Francis's conviction that both artists, having lived through two world wars (in Moore's case seeing active service in the first) and having experienced the Blitz (during which Bacon served in Air Raid Precautions), were engaged in a similar enterprise: restoring the human body, not to a state of perfection or even wholeness, but to a kind of dignified, animal resignation in the face of isolation and suffering.

“Conscious of mortality, each manages to convey an irrepressible sense of life. Their perspectives, of course, were different: Moore still clinging to a belief in humanism, Bacon closer to a bleaker, posthumanist world view. In expressing their complementary visions of humanity, Bacon worked from the outside in, Moore from the inside out: flesh and bone.

“Since Francis Warner's lecture, it has always seemed to me perfectly natural that anyone would choose to think and talk about the work of Moore and Bacon together – a view enthusiastically shared by my collaborator, Martin Harrison.”

Fifty years after their first joint exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art, Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone places the work of these two great artists in close relation once again. The exhibition features 20 paintings by Bacon and 20 sculptures and 20 drawings by Moore. The pieces have been borrowed from public and private collections, selected by Mr Harrison, editor of the Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonée, and Mr Calvocoressi.

Supported by Pictet & Cie, Sotheby's, and the Friends of the Ashmolean, the exhibition explores themes such as the treatment of the human figure and the artists' responses to the violence of the 20th century. Professor Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean, said: “This is one of the most ambitious and exciting exhibitions we have mounted since we reopened in 2009. It compares the two greatest British artists of the 20th century and promises to be both visually thrilling and immensely thought-provoking.”

Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone runs from 12 September 2013 until 19 January 2014 at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

This article was originally published by the University of Oxford press office.