Catalogue entry


Oil and ballpoint pen on white wove paper
270 x 340 (10 5/8 x 13 3/8)
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 (18, reproduced in colour)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.30

The pose, like the energetic application of paint, signals Bacon’s search for the extraordinary. Holding a foot in a hand like a can-can dancer, the figure has its head cranked around to look away from the body. This conception was already present in the outline drawn in ball-point pen before it was reinforced with the application of the purplish pink oil paint. Despite the apparent impossibility of the pose, the indication of a frame and a spatial oval imply that Bacon anticipated enlarging it onto a canvas. The heavy features of the profile suggest that it was based upon those of Peter Lacy, the painter’s lover with whom he had a tempestuous sado-masochistic relationship from 1952 until Lacy’s death in 1962.

The extravagance of the pose is typical of Bacon’s work of the late 1950s and contrasts with the calm disembodiment of many earlier figures, in which anxiety is focused in the face (and often the mouth). The new energy, both physically contorted and sexually charged, may also be seen in relation to Bacon’s adoption of a variety of visual sources. As well as photographs from Eadweard Muybridge and newspaper sources, there is evidence that he was looking at reproductions of other works of art. Figure with Foot in Hand may derive from Rodin’s headless bronze Iris, Messenger of the Gods, (1890-1, Victoria and Albert Museum, London) which is as remarkable for the foot-in-hand pose as the explicit exposure of the sex; it also projects from a rod, so that it appears to float when seen in the sort of photographs that Bacon could have consulted.[1] That he was interested in the sculptor’s work at this time is confirmed by a list of potential compositions which carries various references including: ‘use figure volante of Rodin on sofa with arms raised | use crouching figure of R. crouching in circular room with dog on carpet’.[2] The ‘figure volante’ is a sculpture of similar date and pose (also headless), with the hand grasping an extended thigh.[3] Bacon altered the gender of the source but retained the pose which implies the violence attendant upon sexual activity.

The drawing of Figure with Foot in Hand in blue ball-point pen was located at the right hand end of the page with sheet turned horizontally (with the perforations at the top). It was still in the sketchbook when it was painted, as indicated by a pink off-print from the figure on the reverse of the preceding page Standing Figure (T07367); pages may be missing before Fallen Boxer (T07369). Figure with Foot in Hand seems to have been removed from the book and folded in half shortly after, as the paper is more discoloured than its companions and does not bear the oil stain in the upper left margin common to them. The removal of the sheet may have been associated with making a canvas from the image, but none remains extant.

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 Jean Charbonneaux, Les Sculptures de Rodin, Paris 1951, pl.65 (a source Bacon might have known); also reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.31, fig.25
[2] Bacon annotation in V.J. Stanek, Introducing Monkeys, London [c.1957], endpaper, Tate Gallery Archive 9810, see full transcription in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper 1999, pp.77-80
[3] Figure Volante, 1890-1, repr. Charbonneaux 1951, pl.69