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 (6, reproduced in colour)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.32

Figure in a Framework is the second of the surviving pages from Bacon’s spiral bound sketchbook. Incidental marks and a linear impression have come through from Two Owls, no.1 (T07355), while an off-print on the reverse places it immediately before Collapsed Figure (T07357). Like Bacon’s work in general, the sketchbook is dominated by images of the human body. The unexpected poses vary in degrees of clarity, and Figure in a Framework is initially one of the most obscure. This is partly because of the diminutive size of the image on the page and partly because it is rather thickly drawn in oil paint. The figure has its head raised but the position of the body is difficult to make out, being somewhere between lying and crawling. The use of pink mixed with blue implies a nude. Its isolation within a framing structure was a device used by the artist from the 1940s and especially after the mid-1950s, in such oil paintings as Seated Figure, 1961 (Tate Gallery T00459). Where these frames often created a fictive space or faded away towards the base, that in the sketch has an unusual additional line. This relates to an introductory spatial element that Bacon used briefly around 1960.

Comparison with known canvases suggests that Figure in a Framework may be related to Crouching Nude, 1961 (private collection).[1] The connection is not immediately obvious, but the doubling of the lowest element coincides with a wedge in the foreground of the canvas. This denotes a step into the claustrophobic space of a room with opaque, rather than the characteristically thinly veiled, walls. The figure in Crouching Nude is female and is shown in a series of looping curves, as the knees are gathered under the reclining body pressed against a ledge or cushion. Head in hand, the elbow rests on the same support. These forms may be discerned in the sketch, with the pools of paint making up the entwined legs, the head supported by an arm and the inward curve below the head echoing the edge of the cushion.

Crouching Nude appears to derive from photographs of Henrietta Moraes which the artist commissioned from another friend, the photographer John Deakin. One of these, partially torn in the manner of the papers buried in Bacon’s studio, is quite close in pose.[2] The artist explained to David Sylvester in 1966 that he made paintings from photographs of friends because their actual presence might inhibit him from practising ‘before them the injury that I do to them in my work’.[3] This revised his earlier comment (of 1960, reported by Cecil Beaton) that ‘the person must be there so that you can check up on reality - but not be led by it’.[4] However, the survival of Figure in a Framework may suggest that the process of ‘distortion’ that Bacon characterised may have been tested out on paper between the photograph and the canvas.

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] Reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, [p.140], no.187; also reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.32

[2] Reproduced in David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1975, revised ed. as The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1980, 3rd ed. 1990, 4th ed. as Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1993, p.41
[3] Ibid.
[4] Cecil Beaton, Self-Portrait with Friends: The Selected Diaries of Cecil Beaton 1926-1974, Richard Buckle (ed.), London 1979, p.324