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, February-April 1999 (22, reproduced in colour)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.25

Apparently showing a child or even, judging by the shape of the head, a monkey crawling on a bed, Figure Crawling was in fact based on a photograph in Bacon’s favoured ‘dictionary’[1] of human movement: Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion.[2] The conspicuous bandiness of the limbs recalls the disconcerting image Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge), 1961 (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague),[3] but this peculiarity is explained by their derivation from the straining body of the uppermost wrestler from ‘Some Phases in a Wrestling Match’.[4] Bacon had converted one of these sequential shots - as one wrestler pins down another - into a sexual encounter in works such as Two Figures, 1953 (private collection)[5] and Two Figures in the Grass, 1954 (private collection).[6] However, for Figure Crawling he chose an isolated image from a different phase of the bout, which Muybridge appended to the end of his volume, and removed the lower figure to leave a hovering pose. Significantly, Bacon remarked on this process in 1974, stating: ‘Actually, 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] Figure Crawling may be seen as a stage in achieving this ‘thickness’.

Like many of the other drawings from the spiral bound sketchbook, the inclusion of the bed or platform - also found in Seated Figure (T07364) - is simultaneously domestic and indistinguishable from the paraphernalia of art school life rooms. The very thin use of blue, drawn out into dry scumbled lines, is also found on other sheets, such as Blue Crawling Figure no.1) (T07376). Bacon superimposed the vertical form of a canvas on this composition, but, like so many, it cannot be identified with a known painting. The lump of green oil paint in the lower left is the cause of the stain in similar locations on preceding pages, just as an orange dot at the right reflects a similar lump of paint on the reverse of Bending Figure, no.1 (T07371); the absence of both on the following page suggests that a gap occurs in the sequence after Figure Crawling.

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] 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.30
[2] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901
[3] Reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, p.236, no.182
[4] Muybridge 1901, p.215, reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.25
[5] Reproduced in Alley 1964, p.81, no.75 (colour)
[6] Reproduced ibid., p.85, no.80 (colour), also reproduced in Gale 1999, p.26, fig.16
[7] Sylvester 1993, p.116