Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1’


Not on display

Francis Bacon 1909–1992
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

Display caption

These pages almost certainly came at the end of the dismembered sketchbook. They represent the most coherent programme of drawing through which Bacon explored compositional possibilities in a succession of images. The sense of structure of the body, as well as the degree of abstraction of form, are progressively modified across the 'Crawling Figure' images. They were probably achieved by tracing from one to the other. Although no related oil painting is known to survive, the extent to which the possibilities are explored testifies to the significant role of sketches within Bacon's working process.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

A painted sketch executed in blue oil paint (possibly Antwerp Blue) onto white wove paper. The paper has a perforated edge along the left side where it has been removed from a spiral bound sketch book.

The paint is very dry and has been applied with very little medium. The artist may have reduced the oil content of the paint further by letting the paint stand on blotting paper before use. The image is painted with a brush directly onto the paper and there is no evidence of any underdrawing. The paper is visible beneath the paint and large areas of the sheet have been left unpainted. A fingerprint is partially visible in some of the paint marks.

The sketch is in good condition with some overall discolouration and handling creases in the paper. Stains caused by drops of oil (probably linseed oil) are evident mainly in the top right corner. The sketch enters the Collection with other drawings made by Bacon illustrating similar subject matter on the same paper, which suggests that it originates from the same sketchbook. The drawing is attached to white board and stored unframed.

Calvin Winner
November 1998

Catalogue entry


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

Acquired from the artist (by 1961)

Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, Tate Gallery, London, Feb.-April 1999 (26, repr. in col.)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.25-6

The accumulated wear of Bacon’s sketches is eloquent of their role in his studio as working material and part of the dense undergrowth of papers seen in contemporary photographs. The folding and staining of the pages from his spiral sketchbook has helped to establish a putative order for the sheets before they were torn out. This allows for the identification of sequences which have, in turn, cast new light on his working methods. The best illustration of how the structure of the sketchbook could inject variety into Bacon’s vocabulary of human forms is offered by the four sequential drawings Blue Crawling Figure, no.1, Crawling Figure (private collection),[1] Blue Crawling Figure, no.2 (T07377) and Pink Crawling Figure (T07378). Each page shows a figure in an interior crawling towards the right, but their sequence can be identified by matching the staining through the paper and off-printing on the reverse; in this case, the increasing oil stain in the upper right links the pages. In addition, the repetition of the figure’s specific location on the sheet suggests that the sequence was built up from the back of the sketchbook, each image being traced from the one underneath. The traced figure underwent a metamorphosis through a deliberate implementation of inexactitude.

Under this scheme Blue Crawling Figure, no.1, though earlier in the sketchbook, was probably the last in the variations on crawling figures. Both the body and the handling of paint are at their calmest. The blue oil paint is thinly scrubbed into the surface of the paper, blocking out the horizontal bands of the interior space and rubbing in the cursory lines of the body. Thus described, the body takes on an unusual pose. The formality of the parallel forearms and upraised torso has something in common with the Egyptian Sphinx, which was the subject of four of Bacon’s paintings in 1953-4[2] after his voyage down the Nile.[3] The looping lines which constitute the back reinterpret those on the following page and in so doing lose some of their anatomical purpose. It is notable that the extended leg is unexpectedly reversed, heel down and toes up. Although uncertain, this leg may suggest a residual second figure smothered by the upper one in physical struggle either sporting or sexual. This would be comparable to Bacon’s famous adaptation of the position of nude wrestlers from one of Eadweard Muybridge’s series of photographs[4] to serve as a homo-erotic image of coupling in Two Figures, 1953 (private collection)[5] and Two Figures in the Grass, 1954 (private collection).[6] In the second of these canvases a similarly extended leg belongs to the upper figure while the lower body is lost in the grass. Bacon revealed the thinking behind this process in 1974: ‘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.’[7] It may be that in making this drawing he was elaborating upon just such an ambiguous physical conjunction of bodies already formulated in the earlier canvas.

After the acquisition of the group of works on paper, three other pages form Bacon’s spiral bound sketchbook came to light. One of these was Crawling Figure (private collection),[8] similarly executed in blue oil paint. It clearly belongs to this sequence in subject matter, and close inspection of the staining and marking of the paper indicates that it was the page following Blue Crawling Figure, no.1. It bridges the gap between the forms of this sheet and Blue Crawling Figure, no.2, developing the more uplifted pose which was traced through for the former. It differs from its companions by having three quickly sketched forms suggesting the single window frame seen in Pink Crawling Figure (T07378).

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. in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.25, fig.15

[2] E.g. Sphinx II, 1953, Yale University Art Gallery, repr., Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, p.186, no.68, and Sphinx, 1954, private collection, repr. ibid., p.190, no.79
[3] Anticipated in Bacon, letter to Erica Brausen (Hanover Gallery), 22 Feb. 1951, Tate Gallery Archive 863
[4] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.75, series 30
[5] Repr., Alley 1964, p.81, no.75 (col.)
[6] Repr. ibid., p.85, no.80 (col.)
[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.116

[8] Repr. in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, 1999, p.25, fig.15

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