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Posted on 2023-10-17 12:48:48 in CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ FOCUS
Study for Crouching Nude, 1952 (Cat. no. 52-01)

One of the less discussed recurring motifs in Bacon’s work is the elliptical arena. During the 1950s and 1960s, Bacon produced six paintings that featured figures crouching at the edge of these enigmatic structures.

The first image that used the device was ‘Study for Crouching Nude’, 1952 (featured as the header image for this blog). The Detroit Institute of Arts is home to this masterpiece that serves as the prototype for Bacon's crouching figures of the 1950s. This work features a crouching figure enclosed within a partial circle drawn by a rail, offering a glimpse into Bacon's exploration of space and human form.

Figures in a Landscape, 1956–57 (Cat. no. 57-01)

‘Figures in a Landscape’ was painted between 1956 and 1957. Bacon combines elements from Study for Crouching Nude and a photograph of a cameraman mauled by a lion. 

“He eschewed the rail that supports the figure in Study for Crouching Nude and instead placed the figures in one of his modified grassland settings, a reordering that may have been suggested by the savannah location of the mauling of the cameraman.” 
Martin Harrison

Van Gogh in a Landscape, 1957 (Cat. no. 57-15)

‘Van Gogh in a Landscape,’ is housed in the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne-Centre de création industrielle.

“From the arena’s vegetation, two vaguely menacing but indiscernible forms seem to emerge, their unintelligibility anticipating the forms in Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, 1963 (63‑06).”
Martin Harrison

Two Figures in a Room, 1959 (Cat. no. 59-03)

‘Two Figures in a Room’, currently shown at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, positions the figures near the edge of just a segment of the elliptical arena. 

“Two Figures in a Room was the penultimate manifestation of the crouching nude configuration that had absorbed Bacon since he painted Study for Crouching Nude, 1952 (52‑01). Here the ‘shadow’ figure has become a second, discrete entity, while remaining an object of the crouching figure’s contemplation.” 
Martin Harrison

Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, 1963 (Cat. no. 63-06)

‘Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, 1963’ revisits the elliptical arena setting featured in "Van Gogh in a Landscape, 1957," suggesting a circular and endless journey. 

“The creature in the foreground resembles, in its kinetic rush, the mechanical hare at a greyhound track. It may be pertinent that Bacon frequently attended greyhound races at this time, gambling on the dogs at another aimlessly circular arena.” 
Martin Harrison

Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, 1966 (Cat. no. 66-01)

"In this startling and nightmarish image of existential abjection, the circular banquette registers as a bottomless pit. (Bacon told Hugh Davies that the couch/banquette had been a circular rail that he later filled in). Dyer's face is virtually obliterated, and onto it Bacon partly fused his own head, peering out intently to confront the beholder. One of his most enigmatic inventions, he essayed it again in 'Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966.'" 
Martin Harrison

Bacon later used the elliptical arena alongside other space frames, in paintings such as "Triptych, 1967".

All quotes are from Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 2016’.


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