Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Collapsed Figure’


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

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, February-April 1999 (7, reproduced in colour)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, display cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.29

The figure confined to a corner space may simply be an image of relaxation, but
the loosely indicated horizontals suggest an association with boxing. The figure appears to be thrown back, two sets of arms - one raised and the other resting on the ropes - suggest the sequence of a slump either in exhaustion or under a blow. This interpretation gains circumstantial support both from Bacon’s interest in the sport and from the recurrence of boxing images in other sheets from the same spiral-bound sketchbook. Certainly one of the previous owners of the drawing, Paul Danquah, believed the subject to be boxing.[1] The other pages focus particularly on the steadying raising of the arms, and variations on this pose feature in Falling Figure, Fallen Figure and in Fallen Figure with Arms Up (T07360, T07369 and T07370). A less distinct drawing, Composition (T07380), may include a boxing ring.

The description of the figure in Collapsed Figure is achieved with about a dozen broad brushstrokes: the upward flick of the arm leads into the chest, the italic stroke across the stomach into the extended leg. The speedy linear sketch reflects an impatient production within the sketchbook in general. The preceding page, Figure in a Framework (T07356), is marked with blots of paint from this sheet, which in turn bears heavy staining and off-printing from the following page, Figure Bending Forwards (T07358).

Inverted, the buckled and extended legs in Collapsed Figure have some similarities with the reclining nudes in two sketches (T07353, T07354) and four oil paintings, including Reclining Woman, 1961 (Tate Gallery T00453). Although no source has been identified it is likely that Collapsed Figure derived from sports photographs which, in a 1974 interview, Bacon specified as a valued stimulus: ‘I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers and all that kind of thing - especially boxers.’[2] He noted that he trawled them in the same way that he used Eadweard Muybridge’s stills of figures in motion.[3] Such instantaneous images froze unexpected moments of motion which the painter further transmuted without the constrictions of reality. The evidence of the sketchbook suggests that, at least in this period, Bacon sketched the photographs as a preliminary stage in selecting compositions for his canvases.[4] Collapsed Figure does not seem to have given rise to a surviving canvas, and the fact that the sketch is only linear and not elaborated in colour suggests that its potential was dismissed at an early stage.

Amongst the material acquired at the same time as the sketchbook sheets were a number of pages from an illustrated history of boxing.[5] The heavy wear of these pages - together with evidence of other boxing photographs in the studio[6] - corroborate Bacon’s stated interest, and this is reinforced by the over-painting of two of the illustrations. Both are images of champions from the years following the First World War. On the photograph of Joe Beckett felled by Georges Charpentier,[7] Bacon interposed a figure squared-off in swift paint lines which transform Charpentier into a stick figure turning towards the centre of the ring. A more extensive intervention is found on a posed photograph of Jack Dempsey;[8] here Bacon strengthened and changed the body with black paint, and then obliterated the remaining details (the original position of the legs is visible to the left) with a scumbled layer of Indian red above and grey below, so as to form the corner of a ring. Although perhaps by chance, it is interesting that these over-painted images concentrate upon the standing - even triumphant - protagonist, while the sketches show the fallen.

Apart from an attraction to the display of male muscle and aggression, Bacon’s use of boxing imagery may be juxtaposed with his concern in the early 1960s with multi-figure compositions. He saw these as inherently problematic, telling David Sylvester in 1962: ‘the moment there are several figures ... the story begins to be elaborated. And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in; the story talks louder than the paint.’[9] Bacon’s desire to avoid a narrative reading of his works - especially of such triptychs as Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York)[10] - was part of a wider need, in the context of modernist abstraction, to divorce the realism of his painting from any illustrative intention. Such a position is significant in relation to his use of boxing images, both in the light of the recent deconstruction of the sport as narrative - ‘each boxing match is a ... unique and highly condensed drama without words’[11] - and the (subsequently challenged) attribution to Bacon of another over-painted boxing photograph in which both fighters and a ring-side photographer are shown.[12]

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] Paul Danquah, conversation with Richard Morphet, 21 July 1997, Tate Gallery cataloguing files

[2] David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1975, revised ed. as The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1980, 3rd ed. 1990, 4th ed. as Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1993, p.116
[3] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901

[4] See Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.28-30

[5] Tate Gallery Archive 9810, see Gale 1999, p.29, reproduced p.69 nos.41-2
[6] E.g. reproduced in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 1996, front endpapers
[7] Tate Gallery Archive 9810, reproduced in Gale 1999, p.69, no.42 (colour)
[8] Tate Gallery Archive 9810, repr. ibid., p.69, no.41 (colour)

[9] Sylvester 1993, p.22
[10] Reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, pp.144-5, no.201 (colour)
[11] Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing, New Jersey 1994, extracted as ‘On Boxing’ in Boxer: An Anthology of Writings on Boxing and Visual Culture, David Chandler, John Gill, Tania Guha and Gilane Tawadros (eds.), London 1996, p.27
[12] Boxers, reproduced in Robin Stringer, ‘Revealed: Secret technique behind Bacon masterpieces’, Evening Standard, 4 Nov. 1996, p.18 (colour)

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