Catalogue entry

Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Second Version of Triptych 1944 1988

T05858

Acrylic and oil on canvas. Three canvases, each 1980 x 1475 (78 x 58)

Left canvas inscribed on back in blue ball-point pen ‘2nd Version of Tryptich [sic] 1944| Francis Bacon | 1988 | left panel’ top left
Central canvas inscribed on back in blue ball-point pen ‘2nd Version of Tryptich [sic] 1944| Francis Bacon | 1988 | Center [sic] panel’ top left
Right canvas inscribed on back in blue ball-point pen ‘2nd Version of Tryptich [sic] 1944| Francis Bacon | 1988 | Right panel’ top left
Presented by the artist 1991

Exhibited:
Francis Bacon, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Oct.1989-Jan.1990, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb.-April, Museum of Modern Art, New York, May-August (59, repr. in col., [pp.176-7], and right panel on front cover)
Francis Bacon: Paintings Since 1944, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept. 1990-Jan. 1991 (no number, repr. in col. pp.24-5)
Francis Bacon: Figurabile, Museo Correr, Venice, June-Oct. 1993 (32, repr. p.87, in col. pp.88-9)
Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, June-Oct. 1996, Haus der Kunst, Munich Nov. 1996-Jan. 1997 (87, repr. in col. p.221; centre panel in raking light repr. p.66)
Beyond Belief: Modern Art and the Religious Imagination, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, April-July 1998 (no catalogue no., repr. in col. p.77)
Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Jan -March 1999, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, April-May, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, June-Aug., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Aug.-Oct. (73, repr. in col. pp.231-3)

Literature:
James T. Demetrion, ‘Foreword’, in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1989, p.7
Richard Dorment, ‘Bacon’s Changing Monsters’, Daily Telegraph, 3 Feb. 1989, p.14, repr.
Paul Moorhouse, ‘“A Magnificent Armature”: The Crucifixion in Francis Bacon’s Work’, Art International, no.8, autumn 1989, p.27, repr. p.25 (col.)
Jonathan Goodman, ‘Francis Bacon’, Arts Magazine, vol.64, Jan. 1990, p.85
‘Bacon vs Freud’, Tatler, March 1991, p.87
Richard Cork, ‘Home Thoughts from an Incurable Surrealist’, Times Saturday Review, 16 March 1991, p.16, repr. (col.)
‘Bacon Gives Tate £3m Painting’, Evening Standard, 28 Nov. 1991, p.14
Independent, 29 Nov. 1991, p.8, repr.
Henry Tang, ‘Tate won’t bring back the Bacon’, Westminster and Pimlico News, 5 Dec. 1991, unpag.
Michel Archimbaud, Francis Bacon: In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Paris 1992 and London 1993, p.166, repr. pp.62-3, pl.12, and p.64 central panel only (col.)
Krzysztof Z. Cieszkowski, ‘Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, in Colin Naylor (ed.), Contemporary Masterworks, London 1992, p.17
William Feaver, ‘Francis Bacon: An Old Master of the Elusive’, Art News, vol.91, summer 1992, p.50
Michael Peppiatt, ‘A Vision Fulfilled’ in Rudy Chiappini (ed.), Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano 1993, p.110
Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.133
Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London 1993, pp. 292-3, 308
David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’ in Achille Bonito Oliva (ed.), Francis Bacon: Figurabile, exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice 1993, p.82
Krzysztof Cieszkowski, ‘Kilka Uwag o Zyciu Posmiertnym Francisca Bacona’, Obieg, no.61-2, May-June 1994, p.31, repr. pp.32-3
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p.314, repr. between pp.238 and 239
Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, ‘Notes sur Francis Bacon’ in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.50
David Sylvester, ‘Un Parcours’ in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.31
Hervé Vanel, ‘L’imagination technique’ in Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.67
Hervé Vanel, ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’, in Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.221, repr. (col.)
Christophe Domino, Francis Bacon: ‘Taking Reality by Surprise’, Paris 1996, trans. Ruth Sherman, 1997, pp.28-9, repr. p.28 (col.)
Tony Shafrazi, ‘Introduction’, Francis Bacon: Important Paintings from the Estate, exh. cat. Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1998, p.13, repr. p.13 (col.)
Charles Pickstone, ‘Francis Bacon’, Beyond Belief: Modern Art and the Religious Imagination, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 1998, p.76, repr. p.77 (col.)

Reproduced:
Grey Gowrie, ‘Francis Bacon’ in Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of his 80th Birthday, exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, London 1989, p.7
Michael Kimmelman, ‘Unnerving Art’, New York Times Magazine, 20 Aug. 1989, p.43 (col., right hand panel only)
Jean Clair, ‘Visages des dieux: visage de l’homme à propos des Crucifixions de Francis Bacon’, Artstudio, Paris, no.17, summer 1990, pp.34-5 (col.)
Tate Gallery Report 1990-2, London 1992, p.9 (col.)
‘Tate Stages Tribute to Painter’, Eastern Daily Press, 2 May 1992
John Russell, Francis Bacon, 2nd ed. London and New York 1979, 3rd ed. 1993, pp.190-1, pl.110
David Sylvester, ‘Francis Bacon in Venice’, Independent on Sunday, 13 June 1993, p.3
Sarah Kent, ‘Dearth in Venice’, Time Out, 23-30 June 1993, p.18 (col., left hand panel only)
David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’, Modern Painters, vol.6, no.2, summer 1993, p.15 (col.)
Alastair Sinclair, ‘Last Days of Rage’, Sunday Times, 5 Sept. 1993, pp.24-5 (col.)
Jeremy Lewison, ‘Venice: Francis Bacon’, Burlington Magazine, vol.135, no.1088, Nov. 1993, p.781
José Maria Faerna, Bacon, trans. Wayne Finke, New York 1994, pp.60-1, pl.68 (col.)
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich and New York 1996, [pp.36-7], pl.3 (col.)

Second Version of Triptych 1944, 1988 is - as the title explains - a reworking of the earlier triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1943-4 (Tate Gallery N06171). Bacon frequently used his own works as starting points for new compositions, but the creation of second versions was a distinct practice for which the image and, by implication, its interpretation were accepted as having been established. In the case of Second Version of Triptych 1944, the focal figures are generally comparable with those of the original. However, there were appreciable changes elsewhere, notably in the replacement of the orange backgrounds by deep red and the enlargement of the support to the large canvases which had been Bacon’s standard since the 1960s. These changes do not signal changes to the central theme explored forty-four years earlier but rather assume that it remains understood.

In this connection, Paul Moorhouse has drawn attention to the importance of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion as ‘a key image in the consciousness of the postwar generation’[1] and has sought to place Second Version of Triptych 1944 in relation to Bacon’s use of crucifixion imagery as a reflection on mortality. It may be argued (as Moorhouse notes) that Bacon’s comment, in 1966, about artists re-addressing images within a tradition remained applicable to his own production of a new version: ‘as the instincts change, so there comes a renewal of the feeling of how can I remake this thing once again more clearly, more exactly, more violently’.[2] The ‘change of instinct’ over the intervening years may, therefore, be considered significant and it was this aspect that he stressed in an otherwise non-committal statement about the 1988 painting: ‘I had always intended to rework that painting in a much bigger format, and then one day I decided to do it. But I didn’t recreate exactly the same work.’[3]

Certainly the creation of a second version was a self-reflexive gesture which acknowledged the importance of the earlier work and its passage into a wider consciousness. As such it was available as a source much like other works of art that Bacon used. The re-working may also have been circumscribed by more practical and commercial considerations, as by the late 1980s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion was becoming too fragile to be lent to all his many retrospectives. Comparable circumstances had arisen over the even more fragile Painting 1946 (Museum of Modern Art New York), and a similar solution had been reached in the creation of Second Version of Painting 1946, 1971 (Ludwig Museum, Cologne), made for the 1971 exhibition in Paris for which the original was not secured until the last minute.[4] The same pattern occurred when Second Version of Triptych 1944 first appeared in the artist’s 1989 Washington retrospective to which the earlier painting did not travel.[5] It was clearly regarded as a substitute. In the catalogue, James Demetrion admitted to initial scepticism about re-working – ‘how could he compete with himself by painting a second version of what has become one of the icons of twentieth-century art?’ - before acclaiming the new triptych, which ‘still achieves the power and impact of the first’.[6] Even the fact that Bacon gave Second Version of Triptych 1944 to the Tate Gallery to hang alongside Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion – as, in Gilbert de Botton’s words, a ‘gift of comparison in perpetuity to the nation’[7] - suggests that he envisaged such a substitution as continuing, as indeed it has.[8] Furthermore, it implies that the theme could persist independently of the physical painting in a way which rests uneasily with Bacon’s habitual emphasis on process.

The change in colour from orange to red is the most immediate departure. It ‘conveys grandeur, albeit of a horrific kind’[9] and, as David Sylvester has commented, replaces ‘a metaphor for violence by one which was literally the colour of blood’.[10] This has associations with Bacon’s earlier reference to the murder of Agamemnon in the bloody Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1981 (Astrup Fearney Collection, Oslo).[11] More subtle changes resulted from compositional and technical elements. The figures are considerably smaller in relation to their surroundings, with those in the outer canvases consequentially pressed to the edges. That on the right has acquired crouching legs in place of the tense extended limbs of its predecessor. The central figure is changed less in detail than by its confinement within the strip of red which refines the focal space; the raw canvas to either side provides a relief from the colour saturation. As was Bacon’s habit by 1988, this intensity was achieved by working paint into the canvas almost as a stain, and the smoky shadows of the foreground appear to have been made by spraying. Additions of ‘fibrous’ material - possibly dust – was made to the paint in the bodies and this was also used along the base of the left panel and around the figure in the right panel.[12] Only the creatures’ teeth are achieved in any substantial impasto. In contrast to the accumulation of the early work, the effect is spare. While in line with his current techniques this was, perhaps, also symptomatic of the artist’s sense of restraint in confrontation with his famous early work.


The reception of Second Version of Triptych 1944, like so many of Bacon’s paintings, was mixed. Michael Peppiatt has praised its ‘undiminished brilliance and energy’[13] while marvelling at the artist being seventy-eight when it was made; and this success was unexpectedly capitalised upon when Bacon sanctioned lithographs associated with the image.[14] Responding to the painting’s first showing, Richard Dorment was more circumspect. Recognising a sado-masochistic element, as Andrew Sinclair remarks,[15] Dorment suggested that the figures reflected ‘something ... more deliberate, more chosen and willed than despair. Something vicious and purely evil’.[16] On being told this, Bacon was said to have remarked: ‘I thought that they were rather nice myself’.[17] With such mockery, he showed his satisfaction at continuing to achieve disturbance alongside the customary acclaim. It was Bacon’s last triptych.[18]

Matthew Gale
September 1998


[1] Paul Moorhouse, ‘“A Magnificent Armature”: The Crucifixion in Francis Bacon’s Work’, Art International, no.8, autumn 1989, p.27
[2] 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, pp.59-60
[3] Michel Archimbaud, Francis Bacon: In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Paris 1992 and London 1993, p.166
[4] Hervé Vanel, ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’, in Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.221
[5] Francis Bacon, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., Oct.1989-Jan.1990, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb.-April, Museum of Modern Art, New York, May-August (59)
[6] James T. Demetrion, ‘Foreword’, in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. 1989, p.7

[7] Reported in Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London 1993, p.308

[8] E.g. Francis Bacon: Figurabile, Museo Correr, Venice, June-Oct. 1993 (32)
[9] Moorhouse 1989, p.27
[10] David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’ in Achille Bonito Oliva (ed.), Francis Bacon: Figurabile, exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice, 1993, p.82
[11] Repr. in Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.200 (col.)

[12] Tate Gallery conservation files
[13] Michael Peppiatt, ‘A Vision Fulfilled’ in Rudy Chiappini (ed.), Francis Bacon, exh.cat., Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano 1993, p.110

[14] Repr. in Francis Bacon; Exhibition of Lithographics, exh. cat. Barbizon Gallery, Glasgow 1990

[15] Sinclair 1993, p.293

[16] Richard Dorment, ‘Bacon’s Changing Monsters’, Daily Telegraph, 3 Feb. 1989, p.14
[17] Sinclair 1993, p.293 and Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.133
[18] Sylvester 1993, p.82