Catalogue entry


Oil on white wove paper
340 x 270 (13 3/8 x 10 5/8)
Purchased from Paul Danquah and Peter Pollock with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli, 1998

Acquired from the artist (by 1961)

Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, Tate Gallery, London, Feb.-April 1999 (26, repr. in col.)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.25-6

The accumulated wear of Bacon’s sketches is eloquent of their role in his studio as working material and part of the dense undergrowth of papers seen in contemporary photographs. The folding and staining of the pages from his spiral sketchbook has helped to establish a putative order for the sheets before they were torn out. This allows for the identification of sequences which have, in turn, cast new light on his working methods. The best illustration of how the structure of the sketchbook could inject variety into Bacon’s vocabulary of human forms is offered by the four sequential drawings Blue Crawling Figure, no.1, Crawling Figure (private collection),[1] Blue Crawling Figure, no.2 (T07377) and Pink Crawling Figure (T07378). Each page shows a figure in an interior crawling towards the right, but their sequence can be identified by matching the staining through the paper and off-printing on the reverse; in this case, the increasing oil stain in the upper right links the pages. In addition, the repetition of the figure’s specific location on the sheet suggests that the sequence was built up from the back of the sketchbook, each image being traced from the one underneath. The traced figure underwent a metamorphosis through a deliberate implementation of inexactitude.

Under this scheme Blue Crawling Figure, no.1, though earlier in the sketchbook, was probably the last in the variations on crawling figures. Both the body and the handling of paint are at their calmest. The blue oil paint is thinly scrubbed into the surface of the paper, blocking out the horizontal bands of the interior space and rubbing in the cursory lines of the body. Thus described, the body takes on an unusual pose. The formality of the parallel forearms and upraised torso has something in common with the Egyptian Sphinx, which was the subject of four of Bacon’s paintings in 1953-4[2] after his voyage down the Nile.[3] The looping lines which constitute the back reinterpret those on the following page and in so doing lose some of their anatomical purpose. It is notable that the extended leg is unexpectedly reversed, heel down and toes up. Although uncertain, this leg may suggest a residual second figure smothered by the upper one in physical struggle either sporting or sexual. This would be comparable to Bacon’s famous adaptation of the position of nude wrestlers from one of Eadweard Muybridge’s series of photographs[4] to serve as a homo-erotic image of coupling in Two Figures, 1953 (private collection)[5] and Two Figures in the Grass, 1954 (private collection).[6] In the second of these canvases a similarly extended leg belongs to the upper figure while the lower body is lost in the grass. Bacon revealed the thinking behind this process in 1974: ‘I’ve often used the wrestlers in painting single figures, because I find that the two figures together have a thickness that gives overtones which the photographs of single figures don’t have.’[7] It may be that in making this drawing he was elaborating upon just such an ambiguous physical conjunction of bodies already formulated in the earlier canvas.

After the acquisition of the group of works on paper, three other pages form Bacon’s spiral bound sketchbook came to light. One of these was Crawling Figure (private collection),[8] similarly executed in blue oil paint. It clearly belongs to this sequence in subject matter, and close inspection of the staining and marking of the paper indicates that it was the page following Blue Crawling Figure, no.1. It bridges the gap between the forms of this sheet and Blue Crawling Figure, no.2, developing the more uplifted pose which was traced through for the former. It differs from its companions by having three quickly sketched forms suggesting the single window frame seen in Pink Crawling Figure (T07378).

This is one of twenty-six works on paper from the same spiral bound sketchbook showing perforations along the left hand side; general issues relating to their creation and preservation are discussed in the entry on Two Owls, no.1 (Tate Gallery T07355).

Matthew Gale
February 1999

[1] Repr. in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.25, fig.15

[2] E.g. Sphinx II, 1953, Yale University Art Gallery, repr., Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, p.186, no.68, and Sphinx, 1954, private collection, repr. ibid., p.190, no.79
[3] Anticipated in Bacon, letter to Erica Brausen (Hanover Gallery), 22 Feb. 1951, Tate Gallery Archive 863
[4] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.75, series 30
[5] Repr., Alley 1964, p.81, no.75 (col.)
[6] Repr. ibid., p.85, no.80 (col.)
[7] David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1975, rev. ed. as The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1980, 3rd ed. 1990, 4th ed. as Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1993, p.116

[8] Repr. in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, 1999, p.25, fig.15