Study of a Bull, 1991, is the last painting Bacon ever completed (though its ‘completeness’, along with many of Bacon’s other paintings, is complicated to ascertain), it was started just a few months before Bacon’s death.
The painting depicts a black bull emerging from a black void. Martin Harrison states:
“It could be embraced as the fulfilment of his intention, as stated to Richard Cork in 1971, that he was about to begin painting his autobiography, which would only end when he died.” Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016) p.1392.
Is it possible that Bacon was depicting his own death, or his experience of the process of dying? The way the bull is being consumed by this black void suggests Bacon’s apprehension of his closeness to that great unknowing.
Under the bull, Bacon pressed real dust from his studio in Kensington into the paint. Dust took on a profound significance for the artist throughout his working life. In his writing on this painting, Martin Harrison calls attention to something Bacon said to David Sylvester in their famous interviews, “Well, dust seems to be eternal – seems to be the one thing that lasts forever.” David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon (London: Thames & Hudson, 1975) p. 192.
Study of a Bull, 1991 resided in a private collection in London when Martin Harrison tracked it down during his research for the Catalogue Raisonné. Prior to his discovery, the painting had never been publicly seen, discussed, reproduced or written about.