Francis Bacon



Not on display

Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1981 × 1372 mm
frame: 2185 × 1580 × 118 mm
Presented by Eric Hall 1952

Display caption

Bacon used a variety of strategies to represent what one commentator described as 'the anguish of contemporary life'. Here we see his use of animals to evoke aggression, vulnerability or both. The image of the dog derived from Eadward Muybridge's time-lapse photographs of animals in motion. Bacon smeared the paint to suggest what seems to be demented movement. In contrast the setting, depicted with an economy of means, was based on the sea front in Monte Carlo, where he had lived from 1946 to 1950.

Gallery label, September 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Study of a Dog 1952


Oil, charcoal and sand on canvas 1981 x 1372 mm (78 x 54 in)
Monogrammed in black oil paint ‘⊕’ bottom right

Presented by Eric Hall, 1952

Purchased from the artist through the Hanover Gallery, London by Eric Hall, 1952

Francis Bacon, Hanover Gallery, London, Dec. 1952-Jan. 1953 (no catalaogue)
Francis Bacon, Department of Fine Art, Nottingham University, Feb.-Mar. 1961 (22)
Francis Bacon, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1962 (18, reproduced), Kunsthalle, Mannheim, July-Aug. (14, reproduced), Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin, Sept.-Oct. (15, reproduced), Kunsthaus, Zurich, Oct.-Nov. (15), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Jan.-Feb. 1963 (13)
Francis Bacon, Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York, Oct. 1963-Jan. 1964, Art Institute of Chicago, Jan.-Feb. 1964 (16, reproduced p.41)
Francis Bacon: Gemälde 1945-1964, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Jan.-Feb. 1965 (9)
Francis Bacon: Malningar 1945-1964, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Feb.-Apr. 1965 (9, reproduced)
Francis Bacon, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Apr.-May 1965 (9)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Nov. 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain (74, reproduced p.90)
Francis Bacon: Paintings 1945-1982, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, June-Aug. 1983, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Sept.-Oct., Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya, Nov. (6, reproduced in colour p.35)
Creation: Modern Art and Nature, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Aug.-Oct. 1984 (69, reproduced)
Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, London, Feb.-April 1986 (no number)
Francis Bacon: Paintings Since 1944, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Feb. 1990-Jan. 1991 (no number, reproduced in colour p.6)
Francis Bacon, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, June-Oct. 1996, Haus der Kunst, Munich Nov. 1996-Jan. 1997 (17, reproduced in colour p.107)
Des Modernes aux Avant-Gardes, Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice, June-Oct. 1997 (no number, reproduced in colour [p.9])

Howard Griffin, ‘Francis Bacon: Case-History Painting’, Studio, vol.161, no.817, May 1961, p.164
Luigi Carluccio, ‘Bacon: il potere e la gloria’ in Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin 1962, p.23
Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, p.58, reproduced [p.175], no.39 (as ‘Dog’)
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures, I, London 1964, p.22
David W. Boxer, ‘The Early Work of Francis Bacon’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 1975, pp.162-4, reproduced fig.126
Hugh M. Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928-1958 (Ph.D thesis, Princeton University, 1975), New York and London 1978, pp.145-6, reproduced pl.109 (as ‘Dog’)
John W. Nixon, ‘Francis Bacon: Paintings 1959-1979; Opposites and Structural Rationalism’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Ulster, Belfast 1986, p.39, 560-1 (no.39 as ‘Dog’)
Jeremy Lewison, ‘Venice: Francis Bacon’, Burlington, vol.135, no.1088, Nov. 1993, p.783
Ziva Amishai-Maissels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts, Oxford, New York, Seoul and Tokyo 1993, pp.216,450
Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London 1993, p.129
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p.134
Hervé Vanel, ‘L’imagination technique’ in Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.67
Sam Hunter, ‘Francis Bacon’s Endgame: Humanism Revisited’, Francis Bacon: Important Paintings from the Estate, exhibition catalogue Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1998, p.34, reproduced p.34 (colour; mistakenly as ‘Dog 1952 Museum of Modern Art, New York’)
Matthew Gale in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.21, reproduced

Denys Sutton, ‘Art News from London’, Art News, vol.51, no.9, Jan. 1953, p.52 (as ‘Dog’)
Art Digest, vol.27, 15 Sept. 1953, p.11
G. Sandilands, ‘Contemporary British Artists III: Man and his Surroundings’, The Artist, vol.57, no.6, Aug. 1959, p.124
Emporium, vol.86, Oct. 1962, p.174
Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Vier Studien zu einem Porträt, Berlin 1985, p.95, pl.138 (as ‘Hund’)

At the beginning of the 1950s Bacon made two trips through southern Africa to visit his mother in South Africa. The first was rather meandering; he left in November 1950 and in the following February wrote to his dealer from Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia requesting £50 for a return journey which would take him from Beira to Port Sudan, Thebes and Alexandria.[1] According to Ronald Alley, Study of a Dog and Landscape, 1952 (private collection)[2] were made ‘within a few days’ of each other ‘just before he set out on his second visit’ to South Africa in the spring of 1952;[3] this dating was confirmed by David Sylvester’s recollection.[4] The conjunction of these two works is supported by the appearance on both of a monogram (‘FB’ made into a circle) which is unusual for an artist who rarely signed his work. Although the warmth and openness of Study of a Dog may be related to the experience of Africa evident in Landscape, Alley has noted that ‘the formal flower-bed and the coast road with palm trees were derived from coloured picture-postcards of Monte Carlo’.[5] A similar detail of a coast road with cars had been used in the background of Fragment of a Crucifixion, 1950 (Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven).[6]

The canvas is very thinly painted, with the immediate technique allowing for few adjustments. Although it bears a heavy coat of size (which has darkened and hardened),[7] perhaps ninety percent of the canvas remains unpainted, as it had become Bacon’s practice around 1947-8 to work on the reverse side of commercially prepared canvas.[8] This provided a stiff support while being more receptive to the use of pastel than the primed surface; he told Andrew Durham that this ‘suited the South of France’[9] where he was then working, presumably meaning that the warmer tonality of the canvas suited such subjects. Some lines along the road appear to have been drawn in charcoal, although black oil paint was used to mark the flowerbed and the prominent horizon. The handling and tonality of the two areas of red reinforce the sense of perspective in the octagonal framing device. The paint in the lower of these areas and in the green of the flowerbed was given bulk by the introduction of sand, apparently sprinkled onto the wet surface ‘along with dry pigment almost as another painting colour’.[10] In these same areas there is evidence of Bacon’s compositional procedure as the form of the dog was anticipated and left empty when both the red border and the green circle were painted.

The most complex handling of paint was reserved for the dog. This reinforced its status as the sole subject of the composition, which marked a departure from many preceding paintings, including the contemporary Landscape in which the whole surface was more evenly worked. Black and silvery blue lent form to the dog’s head which seems to have generated the arch of the body in a single sweep from the orange flash of the tongue. The paint is thickest on the back, where the white is greenish and overlaid with a reddish ochre layer of sand used for both texture and colour. The energetic form of the body is bound-in with a superimposed dotted line which is matched by one at the shoulders. The underneath and legs are more sketchily painted with the canvas left bare in places. An earlier position for one of the legs is visible between the forelegs, but it has been disguised in the hatching and blurring which surrounds the body.

It has long been recognised that the image of the dog was derived from one of Bacon’s favourite photographic sources, Eadward Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (Philadelphia 1887),[11] which he sought out in the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The photographer had catalogued the movements of humans and animals by shooting sequences of still images which revealed aspects to motion unrecognised by the eye. Bacon used several of these as points of departure for his painting, and in this particular case the source lay in photographs of a mastiff; as David Boxer has specified, it was the isolated ‘ninth frame of a twelve-frame sequence of a dog striding - an analysis of a single stride in 10 phases’.[12] The same frame and composition was used for a very similar painting, Dog, 1952 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)[13] made immediately on Bacon’s return from his second South African trip in 1952.[14] Two later works, which were darker in tonality and mood, also use the Muybridge pose: Man with Dog, 1953 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)[15] and a second work called Study of a Dog, 1954 (private collection).[16]

The transformation of this photographic image of movement into paint is sometimes compared to Giacomo Balla’s Futurist painting Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo),[17] which was shown at the Tate Gallery in 1952.[18] However, the purpose and effect has been read differently. In drawing attention to the ambiguity of Study of a Dog, Boxer observed that Bacon had ‘chosen the frame which most seems to deny the dog’s movement’ and had emphasised this by lowering one of the hind legs.[19] However, Davies proposed the opposite, suggesting that through the series ‘Bacon has developed and exaggerated the blurred prototype in order to capture a sense of fleeting motion’.[20] As both ambiguity and blurring evidently have a role to play, it seems likely that the artist sought out the peculiar distortions of frozen movement - what he later called Muybridge’s ‘raw statements of movement’[21] - in both his source and his work.

John Russell has written of Bacon’s ‘readiness to accept a deformed or implausible image as true’,[22] and this was substantiated by the artist’s acknowledged reliance on photography. In 1955 he described his paintings as looking ‘as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events’.[23] Significantly he added: ‘this sort of elliptical form is dependent on the execution of detail and how shapes are remade or put slightly out of focus to bring in their memory traces.’[24] Experience or a record of a reality witnessed at a remove could thus be implicit in the focal distortions derived from photography. Responding to David Sylvester’s questions in 1966, Bacon identified photography as a trigger: ‘it’s the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently. Through the photographic image I find myself beginning to wander into the image and unlock what I think of as its reality more than I can by looking at it.’[25] As part of this process, the ‘crumpling’ of source images in the studio which adds ‘other implications’[26] may be interpreted, as Wieland Schmied has observed,[27] as an acceptance of the transience of both the work and its subject.

Bacon’s use of Muybridge as a source became frequent in the early 1950s, and the particular choice of subject for Study of a Dog seemed to bridge two phases at a transitional moment in his work. The immediately preceding paintings were concerned with the isolation of the individual, often enclosed in an interior, such as found in Pope II (Kunsthalle, Mannheim).[28] The scream depicted in these images, and thereafter identified with Bacon’s work as a whole, suggested the existential anxiety which contemporary supporters identified as ‘putting on to canvas the anguish of contemporary life’.[29] In Study of a Dog this existential isolation is seemingly invested in the dog which displaces the human presence. Many ensuing paintings were concerned with wild animals seen on the painter’s trips to Africa or in the photographs in Marius Maxwell’s Stalking Big Game with a Camera in Equatorial Africa (London, 1925). Some, such as Study of a Baboon, 1953 (Museum of Modern Art, New York),[30] extend the parallel between man and animal which may be associated with Bacon’s interest in the ideas of the French writer Georges Bataille.[31] This parallelism was already implicit in the crouching Study for a Nude, 1951 (private collection)[32] where the body adopts an arched form close to that in Study of a Dog and where ‘man and monkey are fused’ and recall ‘a primitive, ancestral memory of man’s animal origins’.[33] The transfer of the nude to outdoor settings, in works such as Study of a Figure in a Landscape, 1952 (Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.),[34] makes this atavism more explicit. The disorientating details of Study of a Dog also reflect these concerns as the feral dog, with lolling tongue and arched back, appears like an eruption of energy in the formal setting of the flowerbed. It is not entirely irrelevant that Bacon was allergic to dogs, and is said to have ensured his exemption from the war service by hiring one from Harrods prior to his medical examination.[35]

In the later paintings, from 1953 and 1954, the same dog was placed in an urban setting which heightened the sense of displacement, but the red framing device used in Study of a Dog has other associations. Its reuse in related paintings is a measure of its success as a compositional device, but may also suggest the control of nature in the formal gardens of Monte Carlo that were its source. As late as 1959, Bacon made a manuscript note which shows his return to this motif envisaging: ‘Statue with dogs or birds around base | Tate picture of Monte Carlo as basis’.[36] The scheme with the gardens had already been traced out in Landscape, South of France, 1952 (private collection),[37] and used in its red form in Dog, 1952 and in the following year in Sphinx I (private collection) and Sphinx II (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven).[38] In these last three paintings the contained space has been criss-crossed by a perspectival grid which, according to Alley, was ‘partly suggested by the gigantic stadium prepared for the National Socialist party’s conventions at Nuremberg’.[39] This identification, which must have been offered by the artist himself, lends a further political gloss to the enigma of the sphinx which is not readily interpretable even as it extends Bacon’s known interest in Nazi imagery first explored in the 1930s.[40]

Study of a Dog was made at a moment of technical transition in Bacon’s work. For the preceding six years he had used a dense overlaying of paint across the whole surface. This was also the period in which his exacting standards caused him to destroy a considerable percentage of his output. However, with his first exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in late 1949, Bacon’s association with the dealer Erica Brausen and her gallery ensured a more steady output required by the roughly annual exhibitions. The sparser working of canvases such as Study of a Dog reflects these commercial demands. Bacon’s frequent changes of address reflected his precarious lifestyle following his break in 1951 Eric Hall, his supporter and lover. Hall’s purchase of Study of a Dog in late 1952 appeared to be a parting gesture, and he immediately offered it to the Tate, commenting: ‘I hope your trustees will take advantage of having one of the best pictures Bacon has painted and I have known his work for 20 years.’[41] The approach was first made through a third party in November while the painting was still at the Hanover Gallery,[42] and Hall understandably felt ‘a bit peavish’[43] that his offer went unacknowledged for a month. The delay was due to inefficiency and pressure of work and caused a ‘minor fracas’.[44] Nevertheless, a legend of official reluctance - cited by Bacon himself and his biographer Andrew Sinclair[45] - came to be associated with this gift and Hall’s other donation of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate Gallery N06171) in the following year.

Matthew Gale
February 1999

[1] Bacon, letter to Erica Brausen (Hanover Gallery), 22 Feb. 1951, Tate Gallery Archive 863
[2] Reproduced, Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, p.59, no.40 (colour)
[3] Ibid., p.60
[4] Ibid., Appendix C, p.270
[5] Ibid., p.58
[6] Reproduced ibid., p.49, no.28 (colour)
[7] Tate Gallery conservation files
[8] Andrew Durham, ‘Note on Technique’, in Dawn Ades and Andrew Forge, Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1985, p.231
[9] Ibid.
[10] Tate Gallery conservation files
[11] Alley 1964, p.58
[12] David W. Boxer, ‘The Early Work of Francis Bacon’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 1975, p.163
[13] Reproduced Alley 1964, [p.177], no.45
[14] Ibid., p.62
[15] Reproduced ibid., [p.183], no.58
[16] Reproduced ibid., [p.194], no.89
[17] Reproduced Giovanni Lista, Balla, Modena 1985, p.176, no.241 (colour)
[18] Hugh M. Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928-1958 (Ph.D thesis, Princeton University, 1975), New York and London 1978, p.147
[19] Boxer 1975, p.163
[20] Davies 1978, pp.144-5
[21] Gavin Millar, interview with Francis Bacon, BBC 1971, quoted in Davies 1978, p.126
[22] John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, Paris and Berlin, 1971, 2nd ed. London and New York, 1979, 3rd ed. 1993, p.64
[23] Statement, The New Decade, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1955, p.63
[24] Ibid.
[25] David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, revised as The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1980, 3rd ed. 1990, 4th ed. as Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1993, p.30
[26] Ibid., p.38
[27] Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich and New York, 1996, p.62
[28] Reproduced Alley 1964, p.55, no.35 (colour)
[29] David Sylvester, ‘Francis Bacon’, Britain Today, no.214, Feb. 1954, p.23
[30] Reproduced Alley 1964, p.77, no.69 (colour)
[31] Dawn Ades, ‘Web of Images’ in Ades and Forge 1985, p.14
[32] Reproduced Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.105, no.15 (colour)
[33] Jill Lloyd and Michael Peppiatt, ‘Catalogue’, in Rudy Chiappini (ed.), Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano 1993, p.139
[34] Reproduced Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.110, no.18 (in colour)
[35] Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London 1993, p.38
[36] Bacon note, [17 Dec. 1958], back flyleaf in Introducing Monkeys, London [c.1957], Tate Gallery Archive 9810; see Matthew Gale in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.21
[37] Reproduced Alley 1964, [p.179], no.51
[38] Reproduced ibid., [p.186], nos.67, 68
[39] Alley 1964, p.63

[40] See Ziva Amishai-Maissels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts, Oxford, New York, Seoul and Tokyo 1993, p.216

[41] Eric Hall, letter to John Rothenstein, 7 Dec. 1952, Tate Gallery records
[42] Alan Barlow, letter to John Rothenstein, 11 Nov. 1952, Tate Gallery records
[43] Hall, letter to Rothenstein, 7 Dec. 1952
[44] Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, p.89, Boxer 1975, p.134
[45] Michel Archimbaud, Francis Bacon: In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Paris 1992 and London 1993, p.25; Andrew Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London 1993, p.94


You might like

In the shop