Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Figure Bending Forwards’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 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 (8, reproduced in colour)

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

This page has been through a series of vicissitudes. In common with the accompanying sheets (T07355-T07380), the perforations along the left edge confirm that it was torn from Bacon’s spiral bound sketchbook. A vertical fold, also visible in the preceding pages, indicates that the whole book was bent along its length. More obviously, the sheet was individually folded into six.[1] As well as this rough treatment - which may speak for the sketchbook as working studio reference - the handling of the paint implies a certain urgency. In places the pink and blue-grey oil paints were thinly applied, but in the centre where they are thick they have left an off-print on the reverse of Collapsed Figure (T07357).

Figure Bending Forwards was almost certainly based on Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of an ‘Athlete heaving 75-pound rock’ from The Human Figure in Motion.[2] It is closely comparable to the third frame in the head-on view, which shows the ‘athlete’ securing his hold on the rock in the split-second before lifting it. Typical of Muybridge’s multi-exposure and multi-viewpoint studies of motion, this sequence seems to have especially intrigued the painter. He made slight variations from the photograph, as the sketch places the head more centrally and the shoulders are square to the picture plane; this may suggest that Bacon sought to develop from the pose. He had already used it more accurately in the canvas Study for Nude, 1951 (private collection),[3] and Muybridge’s side views - also significantly developed - may be associated with other sheets in the sketchbook, including Bending Figure, no.1 and Bending Figure, no.2 (T07371, T07379). A number of oil paintings of the 1950s also derive from the side view.[4]

In 1966 David Sylvester asked Bacon about his use of Muybridge’s images. The painter characterised the photographs as ‘an attempt to make a recording of human motion - a dictionary, in a sense’.[5] This final qualification may be taken at face value, but may also reveal the painter’s attitude to The Human Figure in Motion which he certainly used as a lexicon for unusual gestures and poses. Muybridge’s photographs revealed movement unfamiliar to the eye and, for Bacon, they had the additional advantage of being derived from sometimes eccentric actions. The photographer’s quasi-scientific approach encouraged sporting and athletic activities undertaken by nude models which the painter could decontextualise and transform often into homo-erotic images. However, the strain of the activity in Figure Bending Forwards may also carry more complex associations. It echoes the myth of Sisyphus, whose task of pushing a stone up a hill from which it rolled down was read in existential terms by Albert Camus.[6] Bacon’s work was consistently interpreted in the light of existentialist isolation and it is likely that he was aware of Camus’ characterisation of Sisyphus as ‘the absurd hero’ by the time the book appeared in English in the mid-1950s.

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 (T07355).

Matthew Gale
February 1999

[1] Tate Gallery conservation files
[2] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.65, series 26, reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.27, fig.19

[3] Reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, [p.173], no.32; also reproduced in Gale 1999, p.27, fig.20
[4] E.g. Study of a Crouching Nude, 1952, Detroit Institute of Arts, reproduced in Alley 1964, p.57, no.37 (colour), Figures in a Landscape, 1956-7, Birmingham City Art Gallery, reproduced ibid. [p.209], no.120, and Two Figures in a Room, 1959, private collection, reproduced ibid., [p.222], no.149

[5] 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.30
[6] Albert Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Paris 1942, translated by Justin O’Brien, The Myth of Sisyphus, London 1955


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