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The body is often highly distorted in Bacon’s paintings. In this picture, for example, parts of the head and lower body are almost illegible. Bacon has used texture and visceral colours to describe the flesh, bone and blood of the head. The dribbles and splatters of paint are reminiscent of leaking bodily fluids, bringing attention to the physical material of the body and suggesting violence.

The art historian David Mellor has argued that such pictures share much with Walter Sickert’s Camden Town paintings of prostitutes on beds ‘where gross, abject matter was well to the fore’.

July 2008