Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Figure with Arms Swung Out’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Oil paint on paper
Support: 340 × 265 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

Strenuous poses are found throughout Bacon's dismembered sketchbook. These pages show careful variations alongside switches of scale and medium. Among the identifiable sources are the split-second photographs from Eadweard Muybridge's 'The Human Figure in Motion' (1901) which Bacon much admired. 'Figure with Arms Swung Out' is taken from a runner preparing for a race. Dispensing with their contexts, Bacon made the figures' actions inexplicable even as they remained credible. 'Figure Lying Flat' is traced from the less easily deciphered 'Figure in Grey Interior', which, in turn, shows a structure around the figure which Bacon also used in contemporary paintings.

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 with a large diagonal fold across the right corner. The corners of the paper are stained by earlier use of pressure sensitive tape. Staining is evident on the surface caused by drops of paint on the reverse and oil marks (probably linseed oil) on the front. 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 (13, repr. in col.)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, display cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.26-7

The location of a figure in space through the use of an outlined platform recurs in Bacon’s work. As a static perspectival element it contrasts with the sense of movement generated by the energetic use of line (in the sketches) or the weight of paint (in the case of his canvases). In Figure with Arms Swung Out, just as in the preceding Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.2 (T07362), the platform is combined with a framing structure comparable to his habitual space-frames. The contrast with the short-hand notation of the body is especially evident, with the dotted line of the spine securing an anatomical detail for an apparently distorted figure. The significance of this detail is unclear, although the spine had long been given similar emphasis in Bacon’s paintings of nudes.[1]

In fact the pose in Figure with Arms Swung Out, like many others in the sketchbook, derives from the sequential photographs of moving figures taken by Eadweard Muybridge. His volume, The Human Figure in Motion, was one of Bacon’s favourite sources of images of the unexpected distortions of the body, and this particular pose is found in the opening frames of the side view of an ‘Athlete: Starting on a Race’.[2] In common with nineteenth century conventions of sprinting, the runner prepared for the start in a pose anticipating that of the stride - and reminiscent of a classical discobolos (discus thrower) - although Muybridge’s sequence shows that the sprint itself takes a different form altogether. In disguising this activity, Bacon stripped the source of its original meaning; indeed, it may be posited that his choice of poses was predicated upon them being obscure and even unrecognisable.

The trimming of the perforations from the edge of the sheet removed some of the incidental marks by which the page may be located within the order of the sketchbook pages. A fold down the centre and a stain in the upper left corner are consistent with those running through the first dozen or so pages, but it may be estimated that at least one sheet on either side of Figure with Arms Swung Out is missing from the surviving sequence. The previous owner believed that the tape at the corners must have been applied by the artist, as the sheet arrived in that condition.[3] That this was a more deliberate tidying up than required within the context of the studio may suggest that Bacon selected the drawing for display. This having been said, no such event has been traced nor has a canvas resulting from this work been identified.

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] E.g. Study from the Human Body, 1949, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, no.26

[2] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.33, series 9, and enlarged p.201, reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, display cat., Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.27

[3] Paul Danquah, in conversation with Richard Morphet, 21 July 1997, Tate Gallery catalogue files


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