Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Falling Figure’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Graphite and oil paint on paper
Support: 270 × 340 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 pencil on white wove paper (with perforations at base)
270 x 340 (10 5/8 x 13 3/8)
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 (10, reproduced in colour)

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

Unusually Bacon turned his spiral sketchbook around (placing the perforations along the base) to make this horizontal drawing, which is readily identifiable as a falling boxer. The raised arms, attempting to steady the fall or resting against ropes, reappear in other sheets from the same sketchbook which may relate to the sport: notably Collapsed Figure, Fallen Figure and in Fallen Figure with Arms Up (T07357, T07369 and T07370). Despite these clear similarities, Falling Figure is distinct in style and pose. The simple line painting of the others is more energetically and densely filled out here, with the introduction of three colours - pink, and then blue and green - over the initial pencil drawing. This is a more developed process and may have anticipated conversion onto the scale of a canvas, although no related painting has been identified among the surviving works. With the application of colour, modifications were made to the body (notably the retraction of the extended arm drawn in pencil and pink) and a pencil was used to cut into the colour. The sticky paint left marks on the reverse of the preceding page, Two Owls, no.2 (T07359), when the sketchbook was closed.

The attitude of the figure also differs from those of its companions. Where they appear exhausted, even vanquished, the body tensed over one knee in Falling Figure evokes defiance: a ‘knock-down’ rather than ‘knock-out’. It is probably that these poses were derived from photographs. Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential images of figures in motion include a comparable - if more tumbling - figure amongst ‘Some phases of a boxing match’.[1] In discussing the importance of Muybridge in 1974, Bacon placed it alongside his admiration for ‘the ampleness, the grandeur of form’ in Michelangelo’s drawings; [2] in this connection, an echo may be found in Falling Figure of the pose and tension of Michelangelo’s famous chalk Study for Adam (British Museum)[3] for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which had featured in a major exhibition in 1953.[4] In the same discussion, Bacon also noted that he referred to ‘photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers ... especially boxers.’[5] This is born out by the presence of pages from an illustrated history of boxing amongst the papers acquired at the same time as the sketchbook pages.[6] While a particular source has not been traced, it is the revelation of Bacon’s method which is more significant. Just as with drawings derived from Muybridge, such as Figure Bending Forwards (T07358), this sketch may be assumed to be the artist’s employment of the photographic fixing of the moving body. By establishing, isolating and transforming the image, Bacon could then use the sketch as a point of departure for work on a larger scale. This having been said, no canvas survives which can be linked directly to Falling Figure.

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] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.221
[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.114
[3] Reproduced in Drawings by Michelangelo, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 1975, p.28, no.18
[4] Michelangelo and his Studio, British Museum, April-June 1953
[5] Sylvester 1993, p.116

[6] Tate Gallery Archive 9810, reproduced in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.69, nos.41-2

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