Catalogue entry

Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Triptych - August 1972 1972

T03073

Oil on canvas. Three canvases, each 1981 x 1473 (78 x 58)

Left canvas inscribed on back in black felt-tipped pen ‘Tryptich [sic] August 1972 | Left Panel’ top left

Central canvas inscribed on back in black felt-tipped pen ‘Tryptich [sic] August 1972 | Centre Panel’ top left
Right canvas inscribed on back in black felt-tipped pen ‘Tryptich [sic] August 1972 | Right Panel | Francis Bacon’ top left

Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London (Grant-in-Aid), 1980

Exhibited:
Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March-June 1975 (23, repr. in col.)
Francis Bacon: oeuvres récentes, Musée Cantini, Marseilles, July-Sept. 1976 (5, repr.)
Francis Bacon: oeuvres récentes, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, Jan.-Mar. 1977 (13, repr. in col.)
Francis Bacon, Fundacion Juan March, Madrid, April-May 1978, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, June-July (5, repr. in col.)
Francis Bacon, Tate Gallery, London, May-Aug. 1985, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Oct. 1985-Jan 1986, Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Feb.-Mar. 1986 (81, repr. in col., front cover, detail of left panel)
Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of his 80th Birthday, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Oct.-Nov. 1989 (11, repr. in col. pp.28-30)
Francis Bacon: Paintings Since 1944, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Feb. 1990-Jan. 1991 (no number, repr. in col. pp.22-3)
The Transformation of Appearances: Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Tate Gallery exhibition at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Sept.-Dec. 1991 (19, repr. in col. [p.7])
Francis Bacon: Figurabile, Museo Correr, Venice, June-Oct. 1993 (20, repr. in col. pp.66-7)
Visualising Masculinities, Tate Gallery, London, Dec. 1992-June 1993 (3)
Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, June-Oct. 1996, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Nov. 1996-Jan. 1997 (65, repr. in col. p.177)
Francis Bacon, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Humlebaek, Jan.-April 1998 (26, repr. in col. between pp.72 and 73 and on front cover (central canvas detail)

Literature:
David W. Boxer, ‘The Early Work of Francis Bacon’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 1975, pp.139, 154, 195, figs 97 (right panel), 156 (centre panel)
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Milan 1975, trans. John Shepley, London and New York 1976, p.13, repr. in col. on dust jacket (central panel detail), pl.166 (col.)
Hugh M. Davies, ‘Bacon’s “Black” Triptychs’, Art in America, vol.63, no.2, March-April 1975, p.65, repr. pp.62-3 (col.)
Fenella Crichton, ‘Paris Letter’, Art International, vol.21, no.2, March-April 1977, p.57
Alice Ann Calhoun, ‘Suspended Projections: Religious Roles and Adaptable Myths in John Hawkes’s Novels, Francis Bacon’s Paintings and Ingmar Bergman’s Films’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of South Carolina 1979, p.140, repr. p.194, fig.35
Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: logique de la sensation, Paris 1981, p.36, pl.70 (col.)
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.42, repr.
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Vier Studien zu einem Porträt, Berlin 1985, pp.67-8, repr. p.78, pl.98
Emmanuel Cooper, The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West, London and New York 1986, 2nd ed. 1994, p.231, repr. pp.230-1 (left and right panels exchanged)
Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, pp.67-9,77, repr. pp.68-9 (col.)

John W. Nixon, ‘Francis Bacon: Paintings 1959-1979; Opposites and Structural Rationalism’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Ulster, Belfast 1986, pp.78, 86, 273, 309, 324-5, 326, 327-8, 330, 614-5 (no.321)

Andrew Graham-Dixon, ‘Bacon in Moscow’, Independent, 1 Oct. 1988, p.30
Andrew Durham, ‘Note on Technique’, in Francis Bacon: Paintings Since 1944, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1990, pp.11,12
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, London, revised ed. 1991, p.247
Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London 1992, p.126
John Russell, Francis Bacon, 2nd ed. London and New York 1979, 3rd ed. 1993, p.153, repr. pp.162-3, pl.87 (col.)
Jeremy Lewison, ‘Venice: Francis Bacon’, Burlington Magazine, vol.135, no.1088, Nov. 1993, p.782
Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London 1993, p.220
Andrew Stephenson, Visualising Masculinities, exh. leaflet, Tate Gallery, London 1993, [p.2]
David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’ in Achille Bonito Oliva (ed.), Francis Bacon: Figurabile, exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice 1993, p.68
David Sylvester, ‘Francis Bacon in Venice’, Independent on Sunday, 13 June 1993, Sunday Review, p.4, repr.
David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’, Modern Painters, vol.6, no.2, summer 1993, p.21
Philippe Dagen, Francis Bacon, Paris 1996, p.52, repr. [pp.80-1], pl.51 (col.)
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p.250
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich and New York 1996, p.82, repr. [pp.135-7], pl.40 (col.)
Fabrice Hergott, ‘La Chambre de Verre’ in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.52
Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, ‘Notes sur Francis Bacon’ in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.47
David Sylvester, ‘Un Parcours’ in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.28
Hervé Vanel, ‘L’imagination technique’ Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.70
The Twentieth Century Art Book, London 1996, p.82, repr. (col.)
Carter Ratcliff, ‘Francis Bacon – An Exhibition’, Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Humlebaek 1998, pp.29-30 (English text)

Reproduced:
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.76-7
Gerard-Georges Lamaire, ‘L’Entrée en Matiere’, Opus International, no.68, summer 1978, pp.20-1
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, face et profil, Paris, Munich and Milan 1983, trans. John Weightman as Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford 1983, pl.89 (col.)
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, London 1988, pl.83 (col.)
René Major and Anne Tronche, ‘L’Agonie du jour’, Artstudio, Paris, no.17, summer 1990, p.38 (left hand panel only)
Bacon Triptych ‘71, exh. cat., Kunst-Station Sankt Peter, Cologne 1993, pp.32-3 (col.)
José Maria Faerna, Bacon, trans. Wayne Finke, New York 1994, pp.54-5, pl.61 (col.)
Philippe Dagen, Francis Bacon, Paris 1996, pp.87-8, pl.51 (col.)

Each of the panels of Bacon’s Triptych - August 1972 has the male body as a point of focus. In the centre, a mêlée of limbs embodies a homosexual coupling, while to either side reassuringly domestic-looking chairs (such as the artist had at home)[1] each support a single fragmentary figure. The detailed and intense working of the body contrasts directly with the flat expanses of the setting in a way that is typical of Bacon’s paintings. The dense and energetic application of paint is confined to the figures, for which sand may have been added as a thickening material alongside dry paints reminiscent of pastel.[2] As was his usual practice, the figures were completed in almost every detail before the background was finalised around them. Triptych - August 1972 is distinguished from preceding works by the severity of the setting: the black voids framing the figures, the mute colours of the planes denoting wall and floor, and the dark wedges of the side panels. The latter secured the formal symmetry of the triptych.


As a format, Bacon had resumed use of the large-scale triptych (each panel usually 78 x 58 inches)[3] in the early 1960s and, by 1972, it was his established means for major statements. The three-part composition had the advantage of simultaneously isolating and juxtaposing the participating figures in such a way as to guard against narrative qualities that he was at pains to avoid.[4] The simplicity of Triptych - August 1972 may be compared to that of the significantly earlier Three Figure in a Room, 1964 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris),[5] in which the figures control open spaces by the simple contortions of their poses. Nevertheless, Hugh Davies has suggested that the compositions of the 1970s can be divided into portraits and ‘idea’ triptychs, the latter - of which Triptych - Studies from the Human Body, 1970 (private collection)[6] is an example - reflecting ‘the conjugation of several ideas, both literary and visual’.[7] Davies went on to suggest that Triptych - August 1972, which might be taken as a portrait triptych, encompassed both categories. In this respect it fitted with a number of works from 1972-4 which have been linked thematically.[8]


The bodies in Triptych - August 1972 are not whole, and it is especially difficult to disentangle the central coupling figures. Their torsos appear very abbreviated but a single head - mouth pressed to the floor, eyes tightly closed, thin brown hair thrown forwards - emerges to the left of the amalgam. Most of these details are masked by suggestive overlaid strokes of white. In 1973 Bacon described his recourse to chance in the similar coupling in the earlier Triptych – Studies from the Human Body:

I wanted to make an image which coagulated this sensation of two people in some form of sexual act on the bed, but then I was left completely in the void and left absolutely to the haphazard marks which I make all the time. And then I worked on what’s called the given form. And, if you look at the forms, they’re extremely ... unrepresentational.[9]


Bacon was helped towards the irrationality of this amalgam by adapting the pose from one of his favourite photographic sources: ‘Some Phases in a Wrestling Match’ from Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of moving bodies published as The Human Figure in Motion.[10] The painter owned a copy of an edition of this book and the removed page with this image has been documented;[11] in 1966 he described these photographs as a ‘dictionary’ of human motion.[12] Attracted to the display of the active male nude, he had adapted this particular frame for his earliest images of homosexual sex: Two Figures, 1953 (private collection) and Two Figures in the Grass, 1954 (private collection).[13] In a succession of canvases, the bodies from the Muybridge photograph gradually lost their separate individuality. Two years after their appearance in the Tate’s painting Bacon cast some light on this homogenising process, saying: ‘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.’[14]


As distinct from the painter’s own formal discussions, Otto Karl Werckmeister has proposed that all of Bacon’s art was circumscribed by the fact of his homosexuality.[15] Although this has been qualified by others – Emmanuel Cooper contended that ‘homosexuality ... has never been treated by Bacon literally or as a separate concern’[16] - the depiction of such a sexual pairing must be considered significant (especially as it had remained illegal in Britain until 1968). In this light, the small arrow above the legs of the central figures in Triptych - August 1972 overtly signals the movement of their coupling just as the splashes of white signal its consummation. In 1975 Donald Kuspit’s expressed the view that Bacon’s use of such chance marks was masturbatory in so far as it was associated with the individual’s isolation and ‘creation ex nihilo’.[17] While assuming that the work might be analysed on the basis of ‘homosexual traits’, Kuspit drew parallels between Bacon and Jean Genet; he quoted Jean-Paul Sartre’s distinction of heterosexual from homosexual sex – ‘the recognized gesture sends him back to the world’[18] – meaning that each partner is aware of the other’s experience without the mystery which divides the sexes. This contention has since been specifically contradicted by Ernst van Alphen’s discussion of the central panel of the Tate’s triptych with its ‘total disintegration of selves, caused, again, by the blurring of the self/other relationship.’[19] Across these differing views runs the shared conviction that autobiography, and specifically, Bacon’s homosexuality was a key determinant of his work.

The fragmentary nature of the two seated figures in the outside panels of Triptych - August 1972 may appear to be related to Bacon’s haphazard methods. By reconceiving the human body in a process that accepted the irrational – whether through modifying a source or through the application of chance marks – he observed in 1974 that the image ‘seems to come onto the nervous system much more strongly’.[20] Certainly these figures are missing parts of their chests and limbs, and it is often suggested that such bodies in the paintings have been eaten away; one commentator has described those in Triptych - August 1972 as having ‘literally been absorbed by the “blackness” of the void behind’.[21] Close inspection of the canvases shows that they were conceived as partial and that no revision was undertaken. Thus, the lower part of the left hand figure’s torso was simply never painted. The resulting opening was controlled by the addition of a fine dashed white line demarcating the torso (running through the absent nipples); as well as projecting into the black plane, it serves to lend spatial recession to the torso-less figure.

If parts of the bodies were omitted, there were also unexpected additions. The two seated figures appear to ooze amorphous forms suggestive of cast shadows, which have the blue and pink colouring of the body. The lilac pool below the central pairing is simpler in form and less suggestive of flesh. Both types of detail recall how (in a discussion of proposed sculptures in 1971) Bacon envisaged ‘a kind of structured painting in which images, as it were, would arise from a river of flesh’. He qualified this apparently ‘terribly romantic idea’ by noting ‘but I see it very formally’.[22] It was a device particularly favoured in the works of the first half of the 1970s. One commentator has seen the pools as ‘life draining from the figures’ and associated them with Bacon’s admiration for Shakespeare,[23] presumably referring to ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt’ in Hamlet (I,ii).[24] Since his death, Bacon has been reported as describing the figure in this painting as having ‘the life flowing out of him’.[25] As this happens the shadow is made fleshy.[26]


Triptych - August 1972 was first shown in Bacon’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1975. In many ways, its three panels closely reflect Harry Geldzahler’s general description in the accompanying catalogue:

Bacon’s subject is most often the single human being, alone and flayed by a haunting series of circumstances, dire and nonspecific. Where there are two figures, brutality and tenderness are coupled so intricately that we are left with the impression of high drama, quintessential moments that could be exorcised only through the paintings. The grotesque, even sadistic, content of Bacon’s art, realized through the masterful application of paint, lies at the heart of his aesthetic achievement. It is possible to feel excitement at the traditional bravura of the paint handling, and horror at the rawness of the subject.[27]


While the ‘quintessential moments’ and the contrast between technique and imagery remain pertinent, the description of ‘grotesque, even sadistic’ qualities particularly reflects anxieties about Bacon’s art in that period and perhaps especially for an American audience. The popular association of his work with anguish and debauchery was confirmed when the film director Bernardo Bertolucci used Bacon’s paintings in the opening credits of the controversial and sexually explicit Last Tango in Paris (1972).[28] At the same time, Bacon’s realism sat uncomfortably with contemporary perceptions of modernism – a distinction neatly encapsulated by the contrasting receptions of his exhibition and the concurrent show of the abstract work of Brice Marden at the Guggenheim Museum.[29]


The New York exhibition was the first major show since Bacon’s much larger Parisian retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971,[30] and, remarkably, only one other solo exhibition (in Milan) had intervened.[31] The personal reasons for this dearth of public exposure are not hard to find. The artist’s former lover, George Dyer, had accompanied him to Paris for the final preparations in October and - under the influence of a cocktail of drink and drugs - committed suicide in a hotel bathroom on the eve of the opening.[32] The emotional turmoil that followed this loss was reflected on different levels. The number of surviving paintings decreases in the years up to the New York exhibition: fourteen works from 1972, ten from 1973 and six from 1974. The artist’s biographer, Michael Peppiatt, has seen this period as reflecting Bacon’s gradual realisation of his ‘loss and guilt’. To a conversation in the ‘early summer of 1972’ - just prior to making the Tate’s triptych - he attributed Bacon’s remark ‘Not an hour goes by, of course, when I don’t think about George.’[33] It prefaced the artist’s description of his lover’s earlier attempts at suicide, and the regret felt at helping him out of his life of petty crime into comfortable indolence.[34]


Knowledge of Dyer’s death has circumscribed the interpretation of the ensuing paintings.[35] He had been the subject, identified or not, of many of Bacon’s works shown in Paris, and his appearance in subsequent images indicates a deliberate commemoration. He is recognisable as the left-hand figure in Triptych – August 1972. Although some have suggested that the right-hand figure resembles Bacon himself, it seems likely that this, too, was Dyer, as asserted in an earlier Tate catalogue.[36] Both figures wear underpants, a code - as Sylvester has pointed out - that Bacon habitually used to refer to Dyer’s reputed modesty.[37] This presentation of different aspects of the same figure is not unusual in the related works. The memorial process was initiated in Triptych, 1971 (private collection)[38] which is also sometimes known as Triptych in Memory of George Dyer,[39] and was seemingly painted immediately after the event.[40] It shows three aspects of the man including (in the central panel) his enigmatic presence unlocking a door on a staircase, which appears to relate to Bacon’s admiration for T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.[41]


The dark silhouette of this figure, though set with its companions against a lilac ground, heralds the noticeably more restrained colouring of the works first discussed by Hugh Davies as the ‘Black’ triptychs when they were shown in New York.[42] Although other canvases were completed alongside these, Davies identified the Tate’s Triptych – August 1972 as the first of a trio, followed in the next year by Three Portraits – Triptych 1973 (Marlborough Fine Art) and Triptych, May-June 1973 (private collection).[43] Both of these have at one time or another assumed titles recalling Dyer’s death: Three Portraits - Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer, Self-Portrait, Portrait of Lucian Freud and In Memory of George Dyer – Triptych respectively. Although the characterisation as ‘Black’ dramatises the change in mood around late 1971, it literally denotes the shift from the strong colour of such works as the orange Triptych – Studies from the Human Body, 1970. In revising the grouping a decade later, Davies (with Sally Yard) reduced the emphasis on Three Portraits – Triptych 1973 in favour of Triptych, March 1974 (private collection)[44] identified as ‘the final work of the black trilogy’.[45] This revision – based upon the black backgrounds – may be open to question, both because the 1974 painting came significantly later than the ten month period in which the others were made and because its figures appear deliberately generalised and anonymous.


Given the concentrated period in which the earlier triptychs were completed, an increasingly programmatic approach may be assumed in their conception. Certainly Triptych, May-June 1973 is one of the few paintings in which there appears to be some deliberate narrative content, as the three panels isolate the stages of the final death-throws of Dyer (who is easily recognisable) in the Parisian hotel bathroom in which he was found. In each the figure is crumpled and isolated in a black space beyond a doorway, though in the central panel it casts a black-winged shadow onto the mushroom foreground. Three Portraits – Triptych 1973 also features the doorway device in order to frame the three sitters, although the colouring is muted rather than threateningly dark, with the exception of the black shadows extending from each figure. The portrait of Dyer here is closely related in pose to the left hand panel of Triptych – August 1972, as Davies has noted,[46] although the handling is softer than in the more robust Tate painting. No such narrative is legible in Triptych, March 1974, where a nude is flanked by a butcher and a photographer.


There is no clear evidence that the painter conceived these works as a sequence. Indeed he is reported as having chosen the black background of the Tate painting ‘because the images looked best against that colour, and not for any symbolic reason’.[47] However, some indication may be gleaned from the selection of his four solo exhibitions between 1975 and 1978, over which Bacon may be assumed to have had some influence.[48] Triptych – August 1972 and Triptych, May-June 1973 featured in all of these shows and remained in the artist’s possession throughout this period; this suggests a deliberate establishment of their thematic and compositional relationship. Different works were selected to accompany them at different venues. In New York, both Three Portraits - Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer, Self-Portrait, Portrait of Lucian Freud and Triptych, March 1974 were shown. The latter was included in the exhibition in Marseilles, where Triptych, 1971 (with Dyer standing on the stairs) also featured. In both the Parisian and Spanish exhibitions that followed, Triptych, 1971 remained but Triptych, March 1974 was omitted. From this it may be concluded that Davies’s limited grouping was not recognised by Bacon, but that the central pairing of Triptych – August 1972 and Triptych, May-June 1973 had some significance for him perhaps within a wider accumulation of related works. It is worth noting that the illustrated pages of the catalogue of the 1977 Paris exhibition – Bacon’s first since Dyer’s death there – were prominently edged in black.

Within the evolution of the works shown in these exhibitions Triptych – August 1972 was pivotal in setting the standard for more austere compositions. This having been said, its devices and colouring recall the much earlier Three Figure in a Room, 1964, a fact which has encouraged Philippe Dagen to observe that a biographical interpretation is inadequate as Dyer’s suicide could have no bearing on the earlier composition.[49] The link may have been established by the fact that the 1964 triptych was the first in which Dyer had featured, and, in the early 1970s, Bacon kept a reproduction of it pinned to the wall; it is visible in Peter Beard’s photographs of the studio.[50] While the poses of the 1964 painting were not reiterated eight years later, the isolated display of the male nude in both compositions is set in a similarly ambiguous mushroom coloured space, with the symmetry of the outer panels established by dark foreground wedges. Other details in Triptych – August 1972, and the notable introduction of black, seem to be deliberately resumed in Triptych, May-June 1973, the painting with which Bacon paired it most often. The simple flat openings provide a dark foil for the figures, but this was further dramatised in the later painting by an angling of the door-frames which induces a sense of claustrophobic space. As well as showing a development, this may reflect the different themes of (remembered) sex in Triptych – August 1972 and death in Triptych, May-June 1973.


The triptychs have been characterised by Davies and Yard as dealing with ‘a struggle against death’.[51] This follows Davies’s earlier description of ‘a life-and-death struggle’ in the central panel of the Tate’s painting where the homosexual coupling is ‘perilously close to a darkened doorway invested with all the threat of a limitless void’.[52] He proposed that the painter attempted ‘to elevate his friend’s internal struggle to the level of a universally tragic image by adopting the metaphor of the two wrestlers locked in mortal combat’.[53] A suggestion of an ‘internal conflict’ for the painter himself may be found in the way in which the self-portrait turns away from this central scene. Michael Peppiatt saw death as almost pervasive in the painting: ‘What death has not already consumed seeps incontinently out of the figures as their shadows.’[54] This contemplation of mortality may be reflected in the parallel increase in Bacon’s self-portraits at this time - seven in 1972 and five in 1973 – as well as his contemporary comments to Peter Beard:

Death is the only absolute that we know in this life. Death is the one absolute certainty. Artists know that they can’t defeat it, but I think that most artists are very aware of their annihilation – it follows them around like their shadow, and I think that’s one of the reasons most artists are so conscious of the vulnerability and the nothingness of life[55]


Bacon’s repeated use of Dyer’s likeness in subsequent paintings, through which an iconography was evolved for him (which included the white underwear seen in the Tate painting),[56] reflected this contradictory need to commemorate in the face of mortality. This has some concordance with the traditional use of the triptych format for religious images, so that the confrontation of death in these paintings has connections with Bacon’s secularised versions of the sacrifice of the Crucifixion.[57]


As has been suggested, the designation of a trio of works as ‘Black’ triptychs is problematic in enforcing their isolation from the rest of Bacon’s output at that moment – as well as that of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, it serves a purpose in focussing on works widely regarded as remarkable and as marking a shift in the artist’s career from violent to tragic subject matter. In justifying the addition of Triptych, March 1974, Davies and Yard noted how it ‘transcends the pathos of its companion triptychs to become an enigmatic and summary work’.[58] A sense of the achievement in these works of a tragic art – aspirations to which Bacon had been questioned about by more than one observer[59] - has been summarised by Wieland Schmied:

In the ‘black’ triptychs Bacon gave the world a series of images that not only explore fundamental forms of human experience, but are also entirely new ... the paintings can be seen as a ‘pathos formula’ for our own time: in the midst of the modern world they remind us of the brute facts of existence and force us ... to acknowledge the fact of our own frailty.[60]


Such claims fit with the sustained tendency to read Bacon’s work as ‘existential’ and this may be justified by the biographical information which surrounds this group. As Michel Leiris observed of the painter’s output in general, they ‘help us, most powerfully, to feel the sheer fact of existence as it is sensed by a man without illusions’.[61]

Matthew Gale
September 1998
Revised April 2001


[1] Hugh M. Davies, ‘Bacon’s “Black” Triptychs’, Art in America, vol.63, no.2, March-April 1975, p.62
[2] Tate Gallery conservation files
[3] John W. Nixon, ‘Francis Bacon: Paintings 1959-1979; Opposites and Structural Rationalism’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Ulster, Belfast 1986, pp.133-6

[4] E.g. 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.63

[5] Repr. Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1985, 42 (col.)
[6] Repr. ibid., 69 (col.)
[7] Davies 1975, p.63
[8] Ibid.
[9] Sylvester 1993, p.104
[10] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.75
[11] Repr. Sylvester 1993, p.33
[12] Ibid., p.30
[13] Repr. Alley 1964, p.81, no.75 (col.); ibid., p.85, no.80 (col.) respectively
[14] Sylvester 1993, p.116
[15] Otto Karl Werckmeister, Citadel Culture, Chicago and London 1991 reported in Schmied 1996, pp.106-7

[16] Emmanuel Cooper, The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West, London and New York 1986, 2nd ed. 1994, p.230

[17] Donald Kuspit, ‘Francis Bacon: The Authority of Flesh’, Artforum, vol.13, no10, Summer 1975, p.56
[18] Ibid. p.57

[19] Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London 1992, p.126

[20] Sylvester 1993, p.104

[21] David W. Boxer, ‘The Early Work of Francis Bacon’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 1975, p.139

[22] Sylvester 1993, p.83
[23] Davies 1975, p.68
[24] Nixon 1986, p.309

[25] David Sylvester, ‘Bacon’s Course’ in Achille Bonito Oliva (ed.), Francis Bacon: Figurabile, exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice, 1993, p.68

[26] David Sylvester, in conversation with the author, April 2001
[27] Harry Geldzahler, ‘Introduction’ in Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1975, p.6
[28] Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p.244
[29] Noted in Kuspit 1975, p.50
[30] Francis Bacon, Grand Palais, Paris, Oct.1971- Jan.1972, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Mar.-May 1972; this exhibition is mistakenly given as occurring in late 1972 in Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, London, revised ed. 1991 p.247
[31] Francis Bacon, Galleria del Milione, Milan, Dec.1972 – Jan.1973
[32] Peppiatt, pp.239-41
[33] Ibid., p.247
[34] Ibid., p.248
[35] E.g. Sylvester 1993, p.68; Peppiatt 1996, p.250; and Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.42
[36] Ibid.
[37] David Sylvester, in conversation with the author, April 2001
[38] Repr. Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1985, 77 (col.)

[39] Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Milan 1975, trans. John Shepley, London and New York 1976, pl.155

[40] Nixon 1986, p.611
[41] Sylvester 1993, p.150
[42] Davies 1975, p.63
[43] Repr. Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1985, 82 (col.) and 85 (col.) respectively
[44] Repr., ibid., 87 (col.)
[45] Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p.78
[46] Davies 1975, p.66
[47] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.42
[48] Respectively: Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Mar.-June 1975; Francis Bacon: oeuvres récentes, Musée Cantini, Marseilles, July-Sept. 1976; Francis Bacon: oeuvres récentes, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, Jan.-Mar. 1977; Francis Bacon, Fundacion Juan March, Madrid, April-May 1978, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, June-July 1978
[49] Philippe Dagen, Francis Bacon, Paris 1996, p.52
[50] E.g. Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1975, p.4
[51] Davies and Yard 1986, p.65
[52] Davies 1975, p.65
[53] Davies 1975, p.68

[54] Peppiatt 1996, p.250

[55] ‘Francis Bacon: Remarks from an Interview with Peter Beard’, in Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968-1974, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1975, p.15
[56] Nixon 1986, pp.326-9
[57] Sylvester 1993, p.23
[58] Davies and Yard 1986, p.78

[59] E.g. (in 1966) Sylvester 1993, p43; and Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, face et profil, Paris, Munich and Milan 1983, trans. John Weightman as Francis Bacon: Full Face and in Profile, Oxford 1983, p.42

[60] Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich and New York, 1996, p.83
[61] Leiris 1983, p.44