Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Bending Figure, No. 2’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Ink and oil paint on paper
Support: 340 × 270 mm
Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998

Catalogue entry


Oil and ballpoint pen 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

Acquired from the artist (by 1961)

Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, Tate Gallery, London, Feb.-April 1999 (29, repr. in col.)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.27-8

Richard Cork, ‘I can’t draw, said Bacon’, Times, 26 Jan. 1998, p.18 (as Bending Nude)
‘Bacon vs Bacon’, Art Newspaper, vol.9, no.78, Feb. 1998

Bending Figure, no.2 is the penultimate sheet amongst those surviving from Bacon’s spiral sketchbook, and is typical in showing the human figure unexpectedly posed. The nude is doubled-up as it bends to reach its feet. Its activity is uncertain but purposeful, and the same pose is found in abbreviated form in Bending Figure, no.1 (T07371). The more complex Bending Figure, no.2 is densely layered and adjusted. Here, the figure - its head shown in two positions - was first drawn in ballpoint pen balancing upon a structure in the centre of a circular fictive space. Its feet stand on the front bar, while the body is twisted so that its hands grasp the further bar. Pink oil paint followed by an outline in blue, were then used in a way reminiscent of watercolour or gouache to reinterpret the pose freely. With the pink the body was generally enlarged (with the feet noticeably slipping below, to the line of the back of the fictive room); the blue reinforced this, while flattening the figure parallel to the picture plane. The end result is a sequence of positions progressively disengaging the figure from the structure.

Although they do not relate exactly to any surviving paintings of the period, both sketchbook pages may be generally associated with those of crouching figures. The nude which dominates both Figures in a Landscape, 1956-7 (Birmingham City Art Gallery)[1] and Two Figures in a Room, 1959 (private collection)[2] may be cited amongst these; the straining back and extended arm bear some similarity even if the position assumed is squatting and - crucially - it faces to the right. The much earlier and gorilla-like figure of Study for Nude, 1951 (private collection)[3] is closer in detail. This canvas has already been linked, hesitantly and somewhat unexpectedly,[4] to Bacon’s overpainting of a photograph in a book of a nude skier, Sketch for Study for Nude, c.1951 (private collection).[5] This relies upon the coincidental crouch and the curtained space. In fact, Study for Nude, 1951 seems to derive from Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of an ‘Athlete heaving 75-pound rock’, and specifically the third frame in the head-on view.[6] Bacon frequently acknowledged his debt to Muybridge, whose studies revealed the unseen minutiae of movement, and this particular series seems to have been the source for a number of otherwise apparently unrelated paintings of crouching figures.

As well as Study for Nude, the ‘75-pound rock’ photographs relate to the sketchbook page Figure Bending Forwards (T07358), where the head-on view is used again. The side-view sequence may have been loosely re-worked (and reflected) in Bending Figure, no.2. In both, it is the shots in which the ‘athlete’ seizes the rock (the second and third frames) which appear to have been of special interest to Bacon. In them the muscles are tensed in a condensed effort which is less apparent in the ‘heaving’ phase. If this connection is convincing, the reversal of the position in Bending Figure, no.2 may be associated with the cumulative adjustment of the drawing.

It is a significant coincidence that, in 1966, Bacon mentioned that he had been using a reproduction of a 1952 painting of a crouching figure as the source for a new work.[7] The role of photographs in this process was outlined and, though unacknowledged, it may well have involved drawings of the sort found in the sketchbook. The painting to which Bacon was referring was identified as Study of a Crouching Nude, 1952 (Detroit Institute of Arts),[8] and although he commented that his reuse of it in 1966 ‘hasn’t come off’,[9] the main nude had already reappeared in Figures in a Landscape, 1956-7 and Two Figures in a Room, 1959. All three are again closely reminiscent of the third frame (side view) of Muybridge’s ‘Athlete heaving 75-pound rock’.

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] Repr., Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, [p.209], no.120
[2] Repr., ibid., [p.222], no.149
[3] Repr., ibid., [p.173], no.32
[4] J[ulia] K[elly] in Francis Bacon, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1996, p.104
[5] Repr. ibid., p.235, no.91 (col.)
[6] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.65, series 26; see also Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.28

[7] 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.37
[8] Repr. Alley 1964, p.57, no.37 (col.)
[9] Sylvester 1993, p.37

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