Francis Bacon Two Owls, No. 2 c.1957–61

Artwork details

Artist
Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Title
Two Owls, No. 2
Date c.1957–61
Medium Oil paint on paper
Dimensions Support: 340 x 270 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anoymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
Reference
T07359
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

T07359

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

Provenance:
Acquired from the artist (by 1961)

Exhibited:
Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, Tate Gallery, London, February-April 1999 (9, reproduced in colour)

Literature:
Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.14, 24

In Two Owls, no.2 Bacon added the birds in pink oil paint over the green outline of the structure on which they perch. Bordering lines suggest an enclosing room. The same green was used to add the eyes and wings with somewhat comical results. Stains from oil drawn out of the paint have marked the paper, and a large footprint across the surface indicates the casual conditions in which the work was kept in the studio. Further oil stains and an off-print on the reverse relate to the next sheet in the sequence in the original sketchbook, which is identifiable as Falling Figure (T07360).

The image is close to that on the first sheet from the sketchbook Two Owls, no.1 (T07355), and both sketches relate to four canvases beginning with Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950 (Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven)[1] and Owls, 1956 (private collection).[2] The drawing of the cubic structure differs between the two sketches, but both can be compared to the last of the paintings, Pope No.3, 1960 (private collection),[3] where the framework reappears. Although the birds have moved from its back rail to the front, the similar axonometric drawing of this structure in the painting and Two Owls, no.1 suggests a direct link.


The conjunction in the painting of the owls with the Pope is unexpected, although it may simply derive from the details of the papal throne seen in Velasquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 (Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome) and specifically adapted by Bacon in Painting, 1958 (private collection).[4] The evidence of Pope No.2, 1960 (private collection),[5] where a similar structure supports meat, suggests one perceived link for the birds whose predatory nature was documented in the photographs by Eric Hosking, and which were probably the source for this image.[6]

Note:
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.49, no.28 (colour)
[2] Reproduced ibid. [p.208], no.118
[3] Reproduced ibid. [p.229], no.165

[4] Reproduced ibid. [p.220], no.143
[5] Reproduced ibid. [p.228] no.164

[6] Eric J. Hosking and Cyril W. Newberry, Birds of the Night, London 1945, p.71, pl.48, see Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.23, fig.10

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