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Artist of the Month

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)


Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Francis Bacon, 1944.

Three Studies was first shown in the spring of 1945. Much of London was in rubble. News was emerging in newsreels of the horrors of the German concentration camps. Bacon captures the mood of that time in ways that shocked the art world and influenced images of the body in post-war British art.


About Three Studies

The title of this work refers to figures that are often featured in paintings of the death of Jesus. Bacon said the figures represented the Furies, ancient Greek goddesses who punished human wrongdoing.


Bacon used the structure of many altar paintings – the triptych. Three panels are hung side by side. Each panel contains twisted bodies, which are half-human and half-animal forms.   They appear to stretch towards the viewer in pain and suffering. The background is violently red, creating a cage-like space alluding to captivity and torture.


The central figure looks out to the viewer with protruding teeth. A bandage covers the eyes reflecting the sacrifice of war. It represented healing and heroism.


On the left is a bird/human-like figure with a mop of hair. It looks away from the viewer as if it is hiding something. The shoulders are heart-shaped with bone-twigs for arms.


On the right is a baying creature who stands on a small piece of grass. The head is almost all mouth which is turned up like a cup.


All the figures have elongated necks. They inhabit bare environments.   Two occupy a space that contains pieces of old furniture – perhaps the remains of a European drawing-room. The rooms are filled with burnt orange light that glows but fails to illuminate. The two outside figures force the viewer's gaze to the central figure of the triptych.



Bacon took his ideas for Three Studies from three sources: The surrealist paintings of Picasso in the 1930s, Grunewald's The Mocking of Christ, and the photography of Eisenstein's film Battle Potemkin particularly the scene of the woman screaming on the Odessa Steps.






















Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909. 

At 16, he left home and moved to London, working as an interior designer.


In the late 1920s, he moved to Paris, where Picasso's work influenced him.

He returned to London in 1929.


Bacon never attended art school; he was self-taught.


Bacon was charismatic, articulate and well-read. He spent his middle-age eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with like-minded friends who were often gay.


He regarded Three Studies as his entry point into art, destroying all the works he had done before 1944. His works developed the ideas and techniques used in Three Studies. Bacon's vision from the mid 1940s to his death in 1992 was a world of suffering.  He painted the human body or parts of the body swollen and distorted in bruised mauves and imprisoned in triptychs.


Drawing on photographic reproductions and found images, Bacon used a variety of unrelated visual references to dismantle representations. The result was an image of the human figure shrieking in anger or pain.


Bacon's series of popes draws on Velázquez's famous portrait Pope Innocent X (1650, Galeria Doria Pamphili, Rome). These are striking images that further develop motifs found in works like the Three Studies. The figures of the popes capture psychological forces and symbolise inner energy. 


Many of Bacon's paintings are "inhabited" by reclining figures. Single, or, as in triptychs, repeated with variations. They turn painted images into blueprints for moving images such as contemporary GIFs. The sculptural work of Michelangelo influences the shapes of nude figures.


Bacon painted on the reverse side of his canvases with a dry brush. The painted marks blur into the background. A tension is created between the painted and unpainted, thereby undermining the expressive potential of painted marks and gestures. This technique is reflected in Head V1


Bacon's works were anti-humanist, highly negative and individualistic . He rejected the Renaissance idealisation of the naked human body, the church's promise of redemption, and the idea of heroism. As a result, his work is a hard view and not for the faint-hearted. 

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Figures at the Seaside, Picasso, 1931

Still from Battleship Potemkin

Einsenstein, 1925.

The Mocking of Christ,

Grunewold, 1503-5

About Francis Bacon

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