Francis Bacon, 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion' circa 1944

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944
Oil on board
support, each: 940 x 737 mm frame, each: 1162 x 960 x 80 mm
Presented by Eric Hall 1953© Tate

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Francis Bacon (1909–1992) said he decided to abandon interior design and take up painting after seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s Dinard paintings at Paul Rosenberg’s Paris gallery in the late 1920s. Picasso’s representations of the body as bone-like, biomorphic structures revealed to Bacon the ‘possibilities of painting’.

Bacon started painting around 1933 but later sought to destroy all his output prior to the 1944 triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. The few works that survive from 1933-5 show how he must have been aware of Picasso’s paintings of figures on the beach, reproduced in Cahiers d’Art in 1929. The extended bodies and tiny polyp-like heads are echoed in several pieces by Bacon. He was especially receptive to photographic imagery and a precedent for his triptych could be seen in a sequence of drawings in which the human figure is represented as an abstracted biomorph also reproduced in Cahiers d’Art.

As a modern artist concerned with the human figure and the expressive power of its distortion, Picasso remained a key reference point for Bacon. Until Bacon’s death, Picasso was the only twentieth-century artist he would consider alongside such predecessors as Rembrandt and Velazquez.