To celebrate the month of love, relationships and pairings, this February we take a deeper look at Figure Study II (1956-46), a companion piece to Figure Study I (1945-46). Significantly, Figure Study II was the first of his paintings to be sold to an institution. With this painting, the critical tide was slowly beginning to turn for Bacon.
Richly-painted but hard to decrypt, Figure Study II is another work that probably reflects Bacon’s tangential relationship with Surrealism, in that the disjunction of pictorial elements obeys no logical pattern. It is, insofar as a gender distinction is sensible in Bacon’s reformulations, a female figure.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 168).
Figure Study II was still titled The Magdalene in Bacon’s Tate Gallery retrospective in 1962. Christ’s crucifixion (and the events in the Passion story) was a Bacon topos, to which he ineluctably reverted at pivotal moments in his life and career – notably in 1933, 1944 and 1962. Self-mythologised as an atheist, Bacon’s views on religion were more complicated than that. He claimed he used Christ’s crucifixion only a metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man, yet he identified personally with the suffering.
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 166).
Figure Study II (1956-46) is currently on display at The Royal Academy of Arts, as part of Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.* This powerful exhibition focuses on how Bacon’s fascination with animals shaped his approach to the human body and distorted it; how, caught at the most extreme moments of existence, his figures are barely recognisable as either human or beast. This theme is recognisable in the gaping mouth of the partly-obliterated head in Figure Study II.
If you can’t make the exhibition, you can view the painting and discover more about its history here.
Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné can be purchased through our distributor’s website.
*Please note all details including names, dates and featured works, opening days/hours are subject to change. Ahead of a visiting, we recommend contacting the Royal Academy of Arts for all confirmation regarding the display.