Francis Bacon

Sketch for ‘Seated Figure’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Francis Bacon 1909–1992
Graphite 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


Ballpoint pen and pencil 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 (14, reproduced in colour)

Richard Cork, ‘I can’t draw, said Bacon’, Times, 26 Jan. 1998, p.18

One of the least resolved of the drawings from Bacon’s spiral sketchbook, Seated Figure was revised so as to enlarge the upper body. The preliminary drawing was made in pencil and established the pose, which may be placed on the far side of a bed to which a leaning hand was anchored. When reworked in ballpoint pen, the head and shoulders were enlarged and given more prominent features - notably the large nose. The bed was placed in space, and four lines drawn which may define the limits of the proposed composition. The manner of drawing accords with ensuing pages in the sketchbook, where similarly hesitant details are found - as in Standing Figure (T07367) - and where these laid the groundwork for further elaboration - as in Figure Lying Flat (T07365). Within this stylistic consistency at least one sheet is missing after Seated Figure; this is evident from the diminution of the oil stain in the top left corner; the large oil stain at the top right does not occur on other sheets. The uncertain quality of the drawn line is distinct from the more confident and painterly treatment of earlier pages. This may suggest that they reflect different stages in Bacon’s development of an image. The drawings in ballpoint pen may be the first tentative attempts to envisage a composition, while the painted sheets appear to be part of a rehearsal for its resolution.

It is perhaps not surprising that the composition cannot be related to any specific surviving canvas. Nevertheless, the twisting form of the seated figure in a constricted interior seems to be particularly close to works of 1956-7, including the artist’s Self-Portrait, 1956 (private collection)[1] where Bacon sees himself perched on the edge of a bed (albeit seen frontally). Some relation to Study for Portrait X, 1957 (private collection)[2] is also discernible. Although the figure in the painting is in a chair, he turns away and looks back over his shoulders in a way simultaneously diffident and dismissive. Bacon may well have re-conceived the general composition, while retaining the essence of the pose outlined in the sketchbook.

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] Reproduced in Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné and Documentation, London 1964, [p.205], no.110
[2] Reproduced ibid., [p.212], no.125


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