FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Study from the Human Body

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Study from the Human Body
signed, titled and dated 'Study from the Human Body 1991 Francis Bacon' (on the reverse)
oil, pastel and aerosol paint on canvas
78 x 58 ¼in. (198 x 147.8cm.)
Executed in 1991
Collection of the Artist.
The Estate of the Artist.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
J. Clair, ‘Francis Bacon: Last Thoughts and Last Work’, in The Art Newspaper, vol. 19, no. 3, June 1992 (illustrated, p. 9).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 203, no. 112 (illustrated in colour, p. 192).
P. Sollers, Les passions de Francis Bacon, Paris 1996, p. 177 (illustrated in colour, p. 173).
M. Kundera and F. Borel, Bacon Portraits and Self-Portraits, London 1996, p. 18.
Francis Bacon: Paintings in the 1950s, exh. cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, 2006, p. 174.
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 391.
F. Marini, Francis Bacon, London 2008, p. 87.
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon – New Studies: Centenary Essays, Gottingen 2009, p. 191, no. 128 (illustrated in colour, p. 189, titled 'Study for Human Body').
K. Günther, Francis Bacon: Metamorphoses, Dorchester 2011, p. 33 (illustrated in colour, p. 32).
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné. Volume IV, 1971-1992, London 2016, p. 1390, no. 91-03 (illustrated in colour, p. 1391, titled 'Study for Human Body').
Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, Documenta IX, 1992.
Madrid, Galería Marlborough, Francis Bacon: Pinturas 1981-1991 / Paintings 1981-1991, 1992-1993, p. 44, no. 9 (illustrated in colour, p. 39). This exhibition later travelled to New York, Marlborough Gallery.
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, pp. 130 and 164, no. 62 (illustrated in colour, p. 133; illustrated, p. 164).
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Francis Bacon Important Paintings from the Estate, 1998-1999, p. 62 (illustrated in colour, p. 63, titled 'Study for Human Body').
London, Faggionato Fine Arts, Francis Bacon Paintings from The Estate 1980-1991, 1999, pp. 40 and 44 (illustrated in colour, p. 41).
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Picasso, Bacon, Basquiat, 2004, p. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 37; installation view illustrated in colour, p. 2).
Venice, Central Pavilion Venice Biennale LI, The Experience of Art, 2005.
Edinburgh, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The Naked Portrait, 2007, pp. 18 and 139, pl. 14 (illustrated in colour, p. 19). This exhibition later travelled to Compton Verney, Compton Verney Art Gallery.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, XX Century Exhibition, 2008-2009.
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, Francis Bacon: France and Monaco, 2016, no. 61 (illustrated in colour, pp. 150 and 232).
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Bacon en Toutes Lettres, 2019-2020, pp. 145 and 239 (illustrated in colour, p. 144).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Christie’s has a direct financial interest in this lot and has funded all or part of our interest with the help of someone else. Where Christie’s has provided a minimum price guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie’s sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party who agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. If there are no other higher bids, the third party commits to buy the lot at the level of their irrevocable written bid. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. In most cases, Christie’s compensates the third party in exchange for accepting the risk. Where the third party is the successful bidder, the third party’s remuneration is based on a fixed financing fee. If the third party is not the successful bidder, the remuneration may either be based on a fixed fee or an amount calculated against the final hammer price. The third party may continue to bid for the lot above the irrevocable written
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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

The second to last painting ever completed by Francis Bacon, and one of only four canvases he produced in 1991, Study from the Human Body is a rare work that represents a powerful culmination of his aesthetic values. Painted four months before his death, in a climactic flourish of daring invention, it is the last of three large-scale portraits depicting the young artist Anthony Zych – the second of which is held in the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Unveiled at Documenta IX in 1992, it has been widely exhibited since, most recently featuring in the major retrospective Bacon en Toutes Lettres at the Centre Georges Pompidou between 2019 and 2020. Against a backdrop of stark chromatic planes and bare canvas, the artist captures Zych’s likeness with near-sculptural intensity, framing his head in the manner of his distinguished fourteen-by-twelve-inch portraits. Originally conceived in the form of a crucifixion – Bacon’s first and most significant subject – the work captures the extraordinary reductive clarity of the artist’s late oeuvre. Juxtaposing muscular figuration, erotic fantasy and formal abstraction, it represents a final ode to the visceral impulses of human flesh, distilled and illuminated against the void.

Zych was one of a number of young artists whom Bacon befriended and championed during his later years. The present work was based on a series of photographs that Zych commissioned from his friend John Ginone, who had filmed and photographed bodybuilders during the 1970s. ‘Bacon wouldn’t let me see it at all while he was painting it, except at the early stages’, he recalls. Upon encountering the finished work in the artist’s 1993 retrospective at the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Lugano, he was struck by what he described as its ‘passport-photo likeness’ (A. Zych, quoted in M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 4, London 2016, p. 1390). Against the work’s vacant background, the figure gleams like a beacon, shot through with the influence of Michelangelo, Rodin and the other great sculptors who had long guided Bacon’s depictions of the human form. Indeed, as Michael Peppiatt writes, it is ‘much less “distorted” than most of Bacon’s figures. In this image he gave, perhaps, the most conclusive example of the “realism” that he had discussed at such length throughout the previous decade’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 391).

Indeed, it was during the latter stages of Bacon’s oeuvre that his thoughts on ‘realism’ began to clarify. Since the earliest days of his practice, the artist believed that reality was best approximated through a wild combination of disparate sources. Merging photographs, film stills, medical journals, textbooks and reproductions of artworks, he produced convulsive, hybrid figures who were perpetually spliced between volatile states. During the 1980s, however, Bacon began to refine his sensibilities, dispensing with visual excess and seeking instead – as he put it – to ‘abbreviate to intensity’. Set against flat, empty backdrops, his figures were reduced to their most essential forms, progressively stripped of their former turbulence. Though the present work still draws upon secondary imagery – a photograph of the boxer Yvon Durelle from 1958, and an anatomical drawing from Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life (1959) – it is no longer a site of existential turmoil. The figure, in particular, is a masterpiece of crystalline poise, his flesh as smooth and luminous as a marble statue. It is an elegant summation of Bacon’s desire – expressed just a few years earlier – to produce ‘a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Hinton (dir.), Francis Bacon: The Southbank Show, Illuminations Media 1985).

The latter concept – ‘a shorthand of sensation’ – is particularly pertinent here. The work’s sexual overtones are unmistakeable; Zych has suggested that the scene relates to a conversation he had with Bacon about an incident he witnessed at a gay club. In this regard, the work might be seen to relate to the artist’s other celebrated portraits of male couplings, including the landmark paintings Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1954). The cubic cropping of the head, moreover – as if seen through a window – infuses the composition with a sense of voyeuristic unease: a quality frequently present in Bacon’s images of entwined nudes. At the same time, however, the work’s original conception as a crucifixion suggests a somewhat different reading of the figure. His body, stretched and contorted at a ninety degree angle, recalls the surreal posturing of the ‘furies’ in Bacon’s seminal 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate, London) – the painting even shares its distinctive orange backdrop. The figure’s elongated leg, meanwhile, is framed in a manner that recalls Cimabue’s immortal depiction of Christ upon the cross. For Bacon, a devout atheist, the crucifixion was less a piece of religious iconography than a vehicle for exposing the human form: ‘a magnificent armature on which you can hang all types of feeling and sensation’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 49).

The last decade of Bacon’s practice is widely considered to represent one of his most richly fertile creative periods. ‘[O]ne is struck by how astonishingly inventive it is,’ writes Richard Calvocoressi, ‘as if the artist’s imagination, far from drying up, had been stimulated by create new and ever more intense combinations of colour, structure and form’ (R. Calvocoressi, quoted in Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, p. 9). Hues became brighter and settings more abstract, defined increasingly by their elemental rigour. Floating arrows, as in the present work, introduced a sense of diagrammatic purity. Textures, encompassing pastel, aerosol and bare linen, became lighter and more ethereal. Calvocoressi draws parallels with Colour Field painting, Pop Art collage and even the sparse lyricism of the great modern poets who Bacon read avidly throughout his lifetime. The figure, despite its newfound clarity, remained as vivid and potent as ever, uncompromising in its celebration of flesh. Nowhere is this more eloquently borne out than in the present work: as the backdrop fades into geometric silence, Bacon’s protagonist looms large in volumetric splendour. It is a fitting conclusion to a practice that sought to expose the beauty and brutality of the human condition, and to seal its raw impulses in paint.  

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