Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 1’


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

Display caption

Strenous 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, while the 'Figures with Left Arm Raised' (one traced from the other) derive from photographs of fencers. Dispensing with their contexts, Bacon made the figures' actions inexplicable even as they remained credible. The less easily deciphered 'Figure in Grey Interior' 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.

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. 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 (11, reproduced in colour)

Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.26

Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.1 was achieved with handful of lithe brushstrokes. The thinning and thickening of the blue oil paint at the curves conveys both the sense of rapid execution and of the energetic activity of the figure. The paint is thickest on the raised arm and this has left marks on the reverse of Falling Figure (T07360), the preceding page in the spiral sketchbook from which they are taken. This residue - as a result of the book being closed when the sketch was still wet - tells of the nature of the drawings and their use as one of Bacon’s compositional tools.

Although it is unlikely that the sketchbook was filled systematically from the front, the establishment of the original sequence of pages allows a glimpse of Bacon’s working method. Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.1 was followed by the more heavily painted Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.2 (T07362), as confirmed by the visible staining and the off-printing on the reverse of the former. This introduces the likelihood that the pose was traced through the thin paper from the sheet beneath; thus Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.1 may be seen, in some senses, as a liberated version of Figure with Left Arm Raised, no.2. It was in this way that the structure of the sketchbook allowed either accumulation or paring away as the artist familiarised himself with the qualities of an image. Such tracing is seen most variously in the sequence of four crawling figures (T07376-T07378). It is also a creative process practised by other artists, notably - as Chris Green has shown - in the sketchbooks of Joan Miró.[1]

The variations on the image are significant because the figure - in common with many others in Bacon’s works - is derived from a photograph in Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion. The source is the penultimate frame in the sequence of ‘Athletes Fencing’, in which one swordsman parries the thrust of his opponent; it was enlarged in the ‘Phases of Motion Selected from Various Seriates’ at the end of the volume.[2] While Bacon remained close to his source, the sketches allowed for two developments. He lowered the centre of gravity, perhaps with reference to other phases in Muybridge’s sequence, and exaggerated the elasticity of the limbs. In addition, the sketchy form of the head and face is, somewhat unexpectedly, less reminiscent of a man than of a monkey - the anthropomorphic qualities of which also inspired Bacon’s work.[3] This, together with the loose handling, suggests how Bacon improvised from the source image

It was characteristic of Muybridge’s work that his models were nude in order to display the changes in the musculature. For Bacon this added a homoerotic frisson which became most telling in his conversion of the image of wrestlers into a sexual encounter.[4] In other instances, Bacon tended to extract a single figure from photographs but the fact that many of these sources were images of conflict - boxing, wrestling, fencing - raises the further question of the violence of physical action which he associated with sex.

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] Chris Green, Cubism and its Enemies, Modern Movements and Reaction in French Art, 1916-1928, New Haven and London 1987, pp.267-71

[2] Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, London 1901, p.77, series 31 and ‘Phases of Motion Selected from Various Seriates’, ibid. p.219, reproduced in Matthew Gale, ‘Points of Departure’, in Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.27
[3] E.g. Chimpanzee, 1955 reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, [p.200], no.100

[4] E.g. Two Figures, 1953, private collection , reproduced ibid., p.81, no.75 (colour) and Two Figures in the Grass, 1954, private collection, reproduced ibid., p.85, no.80 (colour), also reproduced in Gale 1999, p.26, fig.16


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