David Sylvester on Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon by John Deakin, 1950s
One of the people Bacon used to drink with during his frequent visits to Tangier, in the late 1950's, was Allen Ginsberg: The American beat poet. One day, Ginsberg asked Bacon whether he'd do a portrait of him and his boyfriend having sex. It seems likely that the request was inspired by one, or both, of two paintings which Bacon had made in 1953 and 54. Ginsberg had probably seen neither in the original, but the one of Figures In The Grass, was reproduced in a literary magazine in 1951, and the one with figures on a bed, could possibly have been known to him from a photograph. Or, he might simply have heard about the paintings, which had been fairly invisible, because of their subject matter, but had become legendary, for the same reason. In any case, he must have made the request in a way which suggested that he was thinking, that Bacon would be doing the painting from life, given that Bacon answered: "Well, this is going to be awkward Allen, how long can you hold it?" At the same time, it seems fairly certain that that question was put in a jest, for Bacon, though he painted many nudes, singly or coupled never, ever made a painting of a nude from life. And even the drawings of nude figures, which he made as sketches for paintings, do not include a single work, which looks as if it could have been done from life.
Allen Ginsberg, 1950s
Bacon, indeed, didn't produce a lot of paintings or drawings of any kind from life. Though in the 1950's, he did do from life, a certain number of heads, and half length and full length clothed figures, but not one nude, figure. He may well have been the only famous western artist who made a speciality of the nude but never worked from a model, even for a drawing. As to clothed figures, while he didn't totally exclude working from the model, he was very reluctant to do so. He did a few portraits in the model between 1951 and 1957, but that was it. In an interview he recorded in 1966, he gave a reason for this: "Even in the case of friends who have come and pose I've had photographs taken for portraits, because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them. It's true to say I couldn't attempt to do a portrait from photographs of somebody I didn't know, but if I both knew them, and had photographs of them, I find it easier to work then actually having their presence in the room. I think that if I have the presence of the image there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to, through the photographic image."
The attraction for him of the photographic image was very clearly demonstrated in his earlier stick stamp portrait with an identifiable sitter, Portrait of Luclan Freud 1951.
Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1951
Bacon had asked Freud to come to hi studio to pose. Freud arrived, on time, to find that Bacon had almost finished the portrait. He'd painted it from a photograph. And not even from a photograph of Freud, he'd done it from a photograph of Franz Kafka, while still making it look much less like Kafka than Freud. Rather then work from the model, he evidently preferred to work from memory plus a photograph which was not even of the portrait's ostensible subject. When I asked Bacon what happened, if someone he'd already painted from memory, perhaps several times, came and sat for him, he said: "They inhibit me. They inhibit me because, if I like them, I don't want to practice before them the injury that I do to them in my work. I would rather practice the injury in private by which I think I can record the fact of them more clearly." I asked him in what sense he thought of it as an injury, and he answered: "Because people believe, simple people at least, that the distortions of them are an injury to them, no matter how much they feel for or how much they like you."
Three Studies of the Human Head, 1953 (left hand panel)
I do have a suspicion that Bacon was making some of this up. It's all together understandable that he preferred to be alone while painting. We know that quite a number of the artists, who forbitualy worked from the model, have positively enjoyed having a model there whether for social reasons, arid / or sexual reasons, and / or because they got satisfaction, conscious or unconscious, from having another human being sit still for them for a long time. But Bacon could well have been made someone who felt happier without such distractions. That would be in line with the fact that he was rare among artists, in never allowing himself to be filmed while he was at work. So there's no problem in accepting his stated preference for being alone. My doubts arise from what he said about inducing a feeling of injury in the sitter, especially as he added that, "simple people at least", were likely to have that sort of feeling. If that was his fear, he could have avoided having the more simple people among his subjects, such as George Dyer to sit for him, and using only people like Lisa and Robert Sainsbury as live model. I think he had a different reason for working form a photographic image rather than a person. I think the reason, or the main reason, was that it is easier to make a flat image that is based on observation of an existing flat image, then it is to make a flat image that is based on observation of something in the round, since the latter requires the translation of a three dimensional phenomenon into a two dimension phenomenon. In other words, I suggest, that Bacon based so much of his work on existing flat images because these have already done some of his work for him.
Study for Portrait III (After the Life Mask of William Blake), 1955
In a monograph I published last year, I introduced as an argument, in favour of this view, the way in which Bacon executed The Five Heads After The Life Mask Of William Blake, which he made in 1955 6 that is, during the period when he was sometimes painting from a model. I pointed out that he'd painted them from memory of the mask, and from photographs of the mask, rather than from a cast of the mask. And I inferred that his difficulties in working from a living model were not so much that the model was alive, as that it was in the round. Unfortunately this point was irrelevant, because I'd forgotten that in 1955 Bacon didn't yet own the cast of the mask which he had in his possession in later years. So the strongest argument in favour of the view that Bacon worked from the flat images because it was easier, would be the fact that he was a self taught artist who'd never had the customary art school experience of painting or drawing from a model, or from a classical cast, or indeed from still life. Now, the flat images from which Bacon worked were exceedingly varied. He loved to describe himself as a pulverising machine", for influences. Sometimes the sources were reproductions of works by great artists, such as Michelangelo and Velazquez. But most of the time they were photographs, whether photographic prints or photographs reproduced in books, or magazines or newspapers.
Life Mask of William Blake
From the late 1940's on, the photographs he used most of all, certainly when painting the nude, were the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, which were first reproduced in books of his such as The Human Figure in Motion. Indeed, it was one of these photographs, one from a sequence showing a pair of wrestlers, that provide the basis for Bacons' first painting of a couple having sex, and less directly for several further paintings of that subject. As he himself said: "These have very often been taken from the Muybridge wrestlers, some of which appear, unless you look at them under a microscope, to be in some form of sexual embrace. Actually, I've often used the wrestlers in painting single figures, because I find that the two figures together have a thickness that gives overtone to which the photographs of single figures don't have. But I don't only look at Muybridge photographs of the figure, I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers, and all that kind of thing, especially boxers."
Bacon's first painting of coupled figures is an especially good example of the fluency with which he could combine images borrowed from other people's art, or craft, with images from his personal life, for the image is clearly autobiographical. The face of the figure underneath could well be Bacon's, and the face of the figure on top, is certainly that of Peter Lacey, his lover at the time. The painting, is also the key case in the saga of Bacon's dealings with censorship. At the time Bacon painted the picture, he was extremely short of cash. He had an oral contract with Erica Brausen at the Hanover Gallery of Bond Street by which he received modest advances for pictures not yet delivered. But Bacon did not live like someone whose income was modest. And the advances were very quickly spent on champagne and oysters for his friends and hangers on. There was no immediate game, therefore, in delivering a picture to Erica Brausen, when it had already been paid for. He therefore resorted, starting in 1952, to selling some of his productions elsewhere, behind Erica's back. The person he used as an agent for these dishonourable transactions, was someone who Erica had always treated with kindness and generosity, myself. I would aim to sell a large painting like this, to one of the London dealers, for 150 pounds in cash. The dealer could expect to get 300 for it, but could afford to take less. Francis gave me a commission of 20%, to be deducted from my selling price. A generous commission, given that I had no expenses to pay out, with Francis even covering the transport of works to my flat.
Eadweard Muybridge, the Human Figure in Motion, 1987. Men Wrestling
Around 10 o'clock one morning in October 1953, three large new paintings arrived. One of them was a pretty ordinary picture of a seated man, the second was a picture, which had an unusual subject: two half length male nudes at a window, embracing, but was undistinguished in execution. The third, was this breathtaking piece, which immediately struck me, as the most old masterish picture Bacon had ever painted. A work in which the contrast between the flesh colours of the monumental figures, and the whiteness of the sheets, made me think of the Venetians. I at once got on the telephone to make appointments with two dealers arranging with Patrick Phillips at the Leicester Galleries to come at noon, and with Freddy Mayor of the Mayor Gallery to come at two. Phillips arrived, looked at the three canvases, and without delay or discussion, handed me 150 pounds for the picture of the seated men. The negotiations with Mayor were more complicated. He said that he loved the picture of the nudes, but would certainly not be able to show it in his gallery and that he would therefore not be able to sell it at the normal retail price. It was undoubtedly true that at that time he could not have been able to show it, but I tried to make the point that the subject might attract a premium price from certain collectors. However, after lengthy discussion, Mayor said that he would give me 200 pounds for the two pictures: 140 for the Nudes at a Window, 60 for the Nudes on the Bed. I knew that Bacon desperately wanted some cash, and so I said to Mayor that he was driving an awfully hard bargain but that I'd accept his offer on one condition, that if Bacon could raise the money in seven days, he could buy back the picture for 100 pounds, which would give him a return on a 60 pounds investment, of more then 3000% per annum. He accepted the proposal. Though Mayor was someone I liked enormously, I felt outraged at the thought that he could buy such a masterpiece for such a pittance, I felt determined that the picture must somehow, stay in the family as it were. I knew that Francis wouldn't in fact be able to raise the money, and I knew that there was no hope whatever of my being able to buy the picture myself. So my thoughts turned to our mutual friend Lucian Freud, as fanatical an admirer of Bacon as I was. At the Colony Room that evening I told Lucian, that if he could produce 100 pounds within 7 days, he could be the owner of supremely great Bacon. After 5 days he told me he had raised the money. I telephoned Mayor the following morning and told him the following lie: Bacon had had a good gambling win and wanted to redeem the picture so that he could make a present of it to Lucian Freud. Mayor was extremely disappointed saying that he'd just found a customer for the picture. I said, and meant it, that I was terribly sorry. That evening Lucian handed me an envelope containing 25 pound notes, which I knew, had been given him by his wife Lady Caroline Blackwood. Lucian's subsequent behaviour showed how much he deserved the picture. There were to be several times over the years, when financial pressures forced him to pawn it for increasingly large sums, but he never failed to find the money to redeem it. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, he's always declined to lend it to museum retrospectives of Bacon's work, even when Bacon wrote entreating him to do so. So the picture had found a good home, but it was unexhibitable and unreproduceable.
The one painted a few months later with the figures in the grass was exhibited within a year, and reproduced within three, years because the subject was represented less unambiguously. Even so, Erica Brausen complained to Bacon, that his treating such a subject was grossly self indulgent. Bacon loved to quote her, with a heavy imitation of her heavy German accent "Vy do you have to paint these filthy pictures that it's impossible to sell." All the same, he seems to have paid attention, because he didn't paint the subject again until 1967, by which time the 1953 picture had long been exhibited and reproduced by a national museum.
Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem “Sweeney Agonistes”, 1967 (left panel)
The first exhibition in which it appeared was Bacon's retrospective at the Tate in 1962. The catalogue entitled it Two Figures, and had a note that it was based on a photograph by Muybridge of two wrestlers. The exhibition included a copy of the photograph in the hope of lending respectability to the painting. It seemed to me that, ironically, the photograph of the wrestlers, looked more pornographic then the painting of the buggers. It was of course, because the painting was raised to a higher level by the beauty and nobility of its facture. From the time Bacon took up the subject again in 1967, it invariably appeared in triptychs, usually in the centre panel, sometimes in one of the outer panels, and, on one occasion, in the centre and an outer panel. The first of these appearances was in the right hand panel of the work entitled "Triptych Inspired by TS. Eliots's Poem Sweeney Agonistes."
Here the scene also includes a standing figure looking towards the couple and talking on the telephone. The image of coupling here, and in all the subsequent versions of the subject, does not seem to have had a specific existing image as a model. These later versions all seem developed from the two versions painted in 1953 and 54. Though it's very probable that Bacon went on looking at the whole sequence of the Muybridge photographs of wrestlers. And it's certain that he consciously feared off his on earlier works. A number of colour reproductions of his paintings were pinned up on his kitchen wall, and they weren't there as decoration.
The later version didn't need a specific new source, because they were more abstract, more formalised, then the initial version. Take for example these two centre panels of Triptychs of 1970.
Triptych, August 1972, 1972 (centre panel)
Triptych-Studies from the Human Body, 1979 (centre panel)
Triptych, 1991 (centre panel)
The following year, George Dyer, Bacon's lover since 1964, died from a massive overdose of drink and sleeping pills. Over the next few years, Bacon's paintings were often a quite conscious effort to exorcise the pain and guilt of that death.
The first treatment of a coupling that followed it was in a triptych of 1972, in which the image appeared in both the left hand panel and the centre panel. The next was in the centre panel of a triptych painted later in 1972.
Here, there is less coalescence between the figures, and their formalisation is bolder and decidedly more extreme then it had ever been before.
In the centre panel of a triptych painted in 1979, the treatment is something of a cross between the version on that black ground and those preceding it.
Triptych, August 1972, 1972 (left panel)
Triptych-Studies from the Human Body, 1979 (centre panel)
And the version in the centre panel of Bacon's final triptych, painted in 1991, is again on a black ground, and is a development of the previous version on a black ground, a more short hand treatment. The reason why the versions of the subject from 1967 on didn't need particular models to refresh them was, obviously, that Bacon's continuing reiteration of the theme allowed him to develop each new version from its predecessors.
All of them reflect a certain stylistic influence which is very recurrent, almost a constant in Bacon's treatment of the male nude that of Michelangelo. It is not so much an influence of particular works, as that of Michelangelo's whole vision. And according to Bacon, if there was a particular aspect of Michelangelo's art that influenced him, it was not so much the sculptures, or the paintings, but the drawings.
Triptych-Studies from the Human Body, 1979 (left panel)
Michelangelo, Day, back view
Bacon was extremely clear about the way in which Michelangelo affected his work: "Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge, and learn about the ampleness that grandeur a form from Michelangelo, and it would be very difficult for me to disentangle the influence of Muybridge, and the influence of Michelangelo. But of course, as most of my figures are taken form the male nude, I'm sure that I've been influenced by the fact that Michelangelo made the most voluptuous male nudes in the plastic arts." In addition to the pervasive influence, we do occasionally find an obvious borrowing from a particular sculpture. For instance in the 1979 triptych the central panel we considered earlier, the outer panels are clearly based on two of the reclining figures in the Medici chapel.
The left hand panel is an echo of the back view of Night; the right hand panel is an echo of the back view of Day.
And there are sometimes echoes among Bacon's nudes of figures from other old masters. In Two Man Working in a Field of 1971, the figures look as if they might have been derived from the Two Men Drawing Up Nets, in the Raphael cartoon for the miraculous draft of fishes, and it is certain that Bacon used to walk around the corner from his studio to the V&A to look at the cartoons.
The figure in the right hand panel, of a 1970 triptych of nudes, looks as if it could have easily have been based on the clothed figure of Caravaggio's Narcissus. This is pure supposition; there is no documentary evidence to support it. On the other hand, there are borrowings from Ingres that are avowed, such as the right hand panel of a 1982 diptych, which is, entitled Study of the Human Body from a Drawing by Ingres.
Francis Bacon, Two Men Working in a Field, 1971
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Raphael cartoons, detail, V&A
But occasional borrowings like these are a much less significant aspect of Bacon's relationship to the art of the past, than are stylistic influences. When Bacon selected his contribution to the Artist's Eye, the series of exhibitions at the National Gallery London, in which certain artists made a choice of pictures from the Gallery's collection, he included Michelangelo's Entombment.
Ingres,Drawing for Le Bain Turc, 1862
Francis Bacon, right hand panel of Diptych-Study of the Human Body, from a Drawing by Ingres, 1982
A token choice, because the collection didn't contain anything more relevant to Bacon's particular indebtedness to the Master. It was the right hand piece in a group he hung of three paintings of the nude. The left hand piece was the Rokeby Venus by Velazquez, Bacon's greatest hero in the handling of paint, even though he didn't attempt to actually imitate his handling. Between the Michelangelo and the Velazquez, Bacon hung a late pastel by Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself It was as if Bacon was using this hang to demonstrate that Degas was a cross between Velazquez and Michelangelo, and this led me to wonder whether Degas wasn't the past painter to whom Bacon was most closely related.
He shares with Degas a combination of a feeling of evanescence and the presence of a fibrous atmosphere inherited from Velazquez, with a definition of precisely articulated solid forms inherited from Michelangelo. There are two particular debts to late Degas in the very first painting of a nude that Bacon completed.
This image of a man passing through a curtain realised in 1949. Compare the treatment of the spine here, and in the Degas Bacon chose for the National Gallery exhibition. He said of it: "You will find at the very top of the spine, that the spine almost comes out of the skin altogether, and this gives it, such a grip, and a twist, that you're more conscious of the vulnerability of the rest of the body then if you had drawn the spine naturally up to the neck. He breaks it, so that this thing seems to protrude from the flesh." The other debt to late Degas is in the treatment of the curtain, which derives from a device Degas constantly used in pastels. "Don't forget," said Bacon, "that in his pastels he always striates the form with these lines which are drawn through the image, and at a certain sense both intensify and diversify its reality. I always think that the interesting thing about Degas is the way he made lines through the body. You could say that he shuttered the body in a way, shuttered the image, and then he put in enormous amount of colour through these lines." On another occasion, Bacon said, that the result of using shuttering is that the sensation doesn't come straight out at you but slides slowly and gently through the gaps.
Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, c.1890-95, The National Gallery, London
Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body, 1949
In talking about Bacon's first painting of a naked couple, I pointed out how it conflated figures from his own life, with figures from art or photography. The same sort of conflation seems to have occurred in this Bacon's earliest extant painting of a nude. The figure's right arm appears to be truncated at the elbow. At the time the picture was painted, Bacon was a frequent visitor to his cousin Pamela Firth, and her husband, the legendary soldier Vladimir Penyakoff the SOMC. His cousin was convinced that the figure in this painting was inspired by Penyakoff, who had lost his left hand in battle. Even while maintaining that Bacon's closest affinity to any past painter was to late Degas, in terms of direct stylistic influence, he was not more influential on Bacon than two artists working in the same place, at about the same time, as Degas: Paris at the turn of the 20th century That is to say the young Picasso and Matisse.
Compare this Bacon of 1974. showing himself asleep on a hospital bed, with this Picasso of 1907. I'm not saying that the sleeping figure is made up from bits and pieces of the five demoiselles of Avignon, I'm not even saying that Bacon was constantly thinking about this icon. I think the Picassos he thought about most were works of the mid 20's to the mid 30's.
But, I do think, that Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and other Picassos of the next two or three years, established a vocabulary of forms that provided a basis for Bacon. Nevertheless, the actual forms in Bacon's nudes, hardly ever seem indebted to particular Picassos, as they do exceptionally in this female nude from a triptych of 1970 which seems to derive from this Picasso of 1934. Bacon's heads constantly seem indebted to Picasso, not so his figures, the figures are indebted much more to Matisse. Bacon always tended to belittle Matisse by comparison with Picasso, his famous phrase, "The brutality of Fact," emerged when he was holding forth on Picasso's superiority to Matisse. "Matisse never had the, what can one say, the brutality of fact, which Picasso had. I don't think he ever had the invention of Picasso, and I think he turns fact into lyricism, he doesn't have Picasso's brutality of fact. But see how he virtually copied the left hand figure in Matisse's Bathers with a Turtle of 1908. First, rather roughly in this painting from 1956 7, and this one from 1959, and then more precisely, in this left hand panel of the great triptych of 1964.
Matisse, Bathers by a River, 1909, The Art Institute of Chicago
Francis Bacon, Henrietta Moraes,1966
Matisse, Odalisque with a Tambourine, winter 1925-26, MOMA, New York
The influence of Matisse at this period seems to have begun with the second painting of a nude that Bacon completed. The figure here is a very obvious case of an example of indebtedness to Michelangelo, but the composition as a whole, seems to me, to be indebted to Matisse. To the picture by him which Bacon preferred above all others the Bathers by a River of 1909 16. Consider those long black upright rectangles, compare
the figure with the one with an arm raised on the far left of the Matisse. Compare the position of the shadowy head behind with the third figure from the left in the Matisse. Compare even the tubular rail with Matisse's serpents. And the influence of Matisse's nudes persisted. Compare this most decisive of Matisse's nudes the Blue Nude of 1907 with Bacon's Female Nude of 1966. Apart from precise similarities in the actual contours, compare the use of dark shading against the pink skin. But we can also see in this Bacon a resemblance to a later work by Matisse, in this Matisse nude of 1926, as in the Bacon, the figure is reclining, with an arm supporting her head against a background of upholstered furniture here a bed there an arm chair. See how Bacon, has followed Matisse's strategy for negotiating the passage from the curved planes of the nude body, to the flat, single colour of the floor with the help of vertically striped upholstery.
Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon, 1907, MOMA, New York
Francis Bacon, Triptych-Studies from the Human Body, 1970 (left panel)
Picasso, Nude in a Garden, 1934
John Deakin, Henrietta Moraes, 1963-64
John Deakin, George Dyer, 1963-64
All the sources we've so far traced or postulated for Bacon's nudes, have been works of art and photographs of life, which like the works of art, were in existence, and which he happened to find. But Bacon also used photographs, which he didn't find, but actually commissioned. Commissioned in order to paint from them certain people he would have painted from life, had it been his practice to paint from life. He commissioned them in the early 1960's from an outstanding photographer who happened to be one of his drinking companions in SOHO: John Deakin. Most of the models were photographed purely for the purpose of painting portraits, for example, Isabelle Rawsthorne, Muriel Belcher, [ucian Freud. But Henrietta Moraes, and George Dyer, were also photographed for the purpose of painting nudes. The dilapidated state of this particular print of one of the photographs of Dyer suggests that Bacon used it a great deal. It would be reasonable to suppose that he resorted to the photographs less often once he'd painted the sitter many times. But he seems to have remained very dependent on them. Whereas the photographs of Henrietta show her naked, those of Dyer show him in white underpants. Presumably, Dyer didn't take them off, because he felt shy in Deacon's presence Shy, or vulnerable. And paintings for which Bacon used one, or another, of those photographs of Dyer such as this right hand panel from a triptych painted as late as 1912, retain the underpants. Presumably this is because Bacon found it easier to copy the simple form of the white clothing, than to put in from memory the complex forms of the genitals. Here is the left hand panel of the same triptych, whose central panel shows one of the couplings we've already considered. It has the same underwear.
Francis Bacon, Triptych-August 1972, 1972 (right panel)
Francis Bacon, Two Figures in a Room, 1959
Francis Bacon, Three Figures in a Room,1964, (left panel)
Oddly enough, it needs to be affirmed that both images are of the same person. It needs to be affirmed, because it's been suggested in publications issued by both the Tate Gallery, and the Centre Pompidou that the person on the left is Dyer, but the person on the right is Bacon. A young female writer at Pompidou was categorical about it, comically so, she says: "Only the person on the left is Dyer, the one on the right looks more like Bacon" Writers on the Tate staff have been more tentative. Clearly, the nonsense arose, from an assumption, that if the coupled figures in the middle were Bacon and Dyer, Bacon would of thought it only fair to portray each of them in the flanking panels and that Bacon always did what he thought fair. That if it was indeed his own face, that he was trying to paint in the right hand panel, this meant that he was sticking one person's face on another person's body and underwear this seems fairly inconceivable. What is conceivable, is that Bacon was not a master at achieving a superficial likeness.
Francis Bacon, Lying Figure, 1969
Francis Bacon, Reclining Woman,1961
The nudes based on photographs of Henrietta are among Bacon's most remarkable achievements. These two date from 1963 and 1969. If Bacon's output were divided according to subject matter, and then judged, it is probable that the group of works with the highest percentage of successes would be the female nudes painted from photographs always the Deakin photographs of Henrietta. Bacon painted naked women with as much conviction and passion, as he painted naked men. This poses the question of how much he was in the habit of seeing women naked. He'd never gone to life classes, and unlike certain famously homosexual artist, he wasn't a closet bisexual. It is manifested the case, that here again, he was closely dependant on the Deakin photographs, in as much as the repertoire of poses rarely goes beyond those covered there. There is also a series of nudes, for which no prototype in art or photography has been traced. A series characterised by a pose: the figures lie vertically on their backs, and upside down, with their left leg stretched out, and their right leg bent at the knee. These two are the earliest and latest of the four oil paintings in the series. On your left Lying Figure 1959 on your right Reclining Woman 1961. The others are entitled Lying Figure and Reclining Figure. The series also includes two undated gouaches, obviously done as sketches for paintings, and more fully realised then most of Bacon's sketches, perhaps because here, for once, he actually referred to the sketches while doing the oils. While we know from the title of the oil on your right that this is a female figure, and while some of the other figures have more or less visible penises, all the figures are alike in build as they are in pose. And it seems probable, that Bacon intended them to be, or at least, was conscious that in effect they were, androgynous, given that that quality appears in other somewhat later paintings.
Francis Bacon, Triptych Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Poem “Sweeney Agonistes”,1967 (left panel)
We were looking earlier at Bacon's first representation in a triptych of a couple having sex: this is in the right hand panel of the Sweeney Agonistes triptych of 1967. The left hand panel of that triptych, shows two figures lying on their backs as if exhausted, and these figures, in sharp contrast to those "hard at it" in the other panel are decidedly androgynous. And in the triptych Studies from the Human Body the central figure is androgynous, and the two outside ones are clearly female, and the one on the right, also has a face that clearly resembles Bacon's. It therefore seems to me, to be quite possible that a number of these androgynous or female figures painted between the late 1950's and the early 1970's are self portraits. Certainly that suggestion is confirmed, rather than contradicted, by looking at photographs of Bacon. The colouring of his flesh and hair, the build, all plump and soft.