FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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Property from a Private Collection
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Figure in Movement

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Figure in Movement
signed and dated 'Francis Bacon 1976' (on the reverse)
oil and dye transfer lettering on canvas
78 ¼ x 58 in. (198.9 x 147.3 cm.)
Executed in 1976.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Galerie Alice Pauli, Lausanne
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1977
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, Oxford, 1983, n.p., no. 105 (illustrated).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1985, p. 176, no. 103 (illustrated).
M. Frizot, "La photographie, hors-champ de la peinture," Artstudio, Summer 1990, no. 17, p. 107 (illustrated).
E. van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, London, 1992, pp. 148 and 150, no. 90 (illustrated).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, New York, 1993, p. 252.
J. M. Faerna, ed., Bacon, New York, 1995, pp. 34-35, no. 32 (illustrated).
W. Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, Munich, 1996, p. 113, no. 29 (illustrated).
C. Domino, Francis Bacon ‘Taking Reality by Surprise,’ London, 1997, pp. 88-89 (illustrated).
J.-C. Delpierre, ed., “Francis Bacon,” Beaux Arts Magazine, Paris, 1997, pp. 32-33, no. 23 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, pp. 152 and 155-156, no. 118 (illustrated).
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, pp. 109 and 117, no. 42 (illustrated).
L. Ficacci, Bacon: 1909-1992, Cologne, 2003, p. 9 (illustrated on the front cover).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London, 2005, pp. 103, 105 and 212, fig. 179 (illustrated).
Bacon, exh. cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, 2008, pp. 64 and 66-67, fig. 11 (illustrated).
S. Hunter, Francis Bacon, Barcelona, 2009, p. 44 (illustrated).
B. Dawson, “Food for Thought,” Apollo, March 2013, p. 124, fig. 12 (illustrated).
J. Littell, Triptych: Three Studies After Francis Bacon, London, 2013, pp. 107-108.
Francis Bacon and the Masters, exh. cat., St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, 2014-2015, p. 36.
M. Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2016, vol. I, pp. 14-15 (illustrated).
R. Daniels and M. Harrison, eds., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, 1971-1992, London, 2016, vol. IV, pp. 1090-1091, no. 76-02 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 2016, p. 175, no. 115 (illustrated).
G. Manfieri, "La violenza del reale. Bacon e Giacometti vis-à-vis a Basilea. Le immagini," ArtsLife, 17 July 2018, digital (illustrated).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or The Measures of Excess, London, 2019, pp. 232 and 239 (illustrated).
M. Stevens and A. Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations, London, 2021, p. 616.
J. Birch and M. Hodges, Bacon in Moscow, London, 2022, pp. 182-183 (illustrated).
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Francis Bacon œuvres récentes, July-September 1976, n.p., no. 16 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Francis Bacon, May 1985-March 1986, p. 237, no. 96 (illustrated).
Aix-en-Provence, Cloître Saint-Louis, Présence contemporaine, images du corps: exposition réalisée d’après l’ouvrage de Marc Le Bot, July-August 1986, p. 21 (illustrated).
Marseille, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Peinture, Cinéma, Peinture, October 1989-January 1990, p. 112 (illustrated).
Venice, Museo Correr, XXXXV Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte, Francis Bacon: Figurabile, June-October 1993, pp. 72, 76, 82 and 128, no. 24 (illustrated on p. 76 and the front cover).
Paris, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou and Munich, Haus der Kunst, Francis Bacon, June 1996-January 1997, pp. 29 and 202-203, no. 70 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Shared Passions: From Cézanne to Rothko, June-October 2009, pp. 138-139, no. 1 (illustrated).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Bacon-Giacometti, April-September 2018, pp. 124, 125, 145 and 197 (illustrated).
Further details
We would like to thank Rebecca Daniels for the information she has kindly provided on this work.

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Lot Essay

"Of the single canvases painted in [1970-1976] the present work seems to be the greatest. A further monument… to George Dyer’s tragic fall, it is a painting in which a whole range of Baconian devices are brought together with a compelling mystery."
David Sylvester

Standing among the great icons of Francis Bacon’s oeuvre, Figure in Movement is an extraordinary meditation on love, loss and the transience of the human condition. Painted in 1976, it takes its place within the canon of masterworks that followed the tragic death of his beloved George Dyer in 1971. Described by the critic David Sylvester as the greatest large single canvas produced during these years, it is a staggering image of human flesh in motion. A visceral tangle of limbs is suspended within an empty arena, shot through with the influence of Michelangelo and Muybridge. A circle magnifies the figure’s face, fusing hints of Dyer’s likeness with fleeting echoes of Bacon’s own. Illegible fragments of text spill onto the fiery orange ground like literature. In the corner hangs a bird-like spectre, referencing the ancient Greek “Furies” that had long haunted Bacon’s art. Conversant with the elegiac “black triptychs” that had dominated the artist’s output since Dyer’s death, it is a work of near-operatic grandeur: a fantasy of bodies entwined before the abyss, an image of life illuminated against the void, and a portrait of flesh on the brink of transcendence.

"This picture paints man’s sui generis destiny … In the vehemence of its efficiency, this painting has the import of a treatise. It would be easy to think that few paintings could compare to this wonder."
Yves Peyré

With an outstanding exhibition history that includes landmark retrospectives at the Tate Gallery, London, the Museo Correr, Venice and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Figure in Movement has been widely celebrated in scholarship. For Sylvester, whose seminal interviews with Bacon were published the year before the painting, it was a monument “to George Dyer’s tragic fall, in which a whole range of Baconian devices are brought together with a compelling mastery” (D. Sylvester, Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat. Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin 2000, p. 109). For Martin Harrison, author of Bacon’s catalogue raisonné, it is one of the artist’s “quintessential images of entropy, a boldly-coloured masterpiece of disorder and inquietude” (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, London 2016, p. 1090). The poet Yves Peyré, meanwhile, wrote that “This picture paints man’s sui generis destiny … In the vehemence of its efficiency, this painting has the import of a treatise. It would be easy to think that few paintings could compare to this wonder” (Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or The Measure of Excess, London 2019, p. 232).

Dyer’s death marked a turning point in Bacon’s oeuvre. On that fateful night in 1971—less than thirty-six hours before the opening of his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris—his great love and muse was ripped away from him. From their first meeting in 1963, through the ensuing years of passion and tumult, Dyer had been the subject of some of Bacon’s most extraordinary portraits. As the artist attempted to process the grief of his loss, his likeness continued to burn brightly in his art. The black triptychs replayed in harrowing detail the tragic events of his final hours. Several—including the middle panel of Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London) and the left-hand panel of In Memory of George Dyer (1971, Fondation Beyeler, Basel)—depicted Dyer’s body in a state of contortion, as though wrestling with his own life force. Figure in Movement extends the language of these works, its hybrid figure at once raw and sensual. Where Bacon had previously positioned Dyer on the edge of the void, however, here he seems to tumble into its depths, his form engulfed by darkness.

Shortly after its creation, Figure in Movement was unveiled alongside the black triptychs in Bacon’s solo exhibition at the Musée Cantini in Marseille. The artist, an ardent Francophile, had based himself in Paris for much of the period following Dyer’s death, and by 1976 had truly cemented his reputation in his adopted homeland. The show in Marseille—Bacon’s first French museum exhibition outside the capital—brought him great joy and catharsis. The paintings shown, created between 1969 and 1976, captured the full gamut of his grief. Sylvester notes parallels between the present work and Three Figures and Portrait (1975, Tate London): an obsessive meditation on Dyer’s likeness, featuring two similarly convulsive nudes (D. Sylvester, ibid.). Elsewhere, he draws comparison with the masterpiece Triptych 1974-77, also exhibited. The triptych’s “luminosity and transparency,” he writes, are echoed in “certain other outstanding works of the period,” including the present work. He also suggests that the figure developed directly from the male nude in the triptych’s right-hand panel (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 152). Both evoke the immortal photograph of Dyer in profile taken by John Deakin in 1964, whose chiselled silhouette flooded Bacon’s art.

Bacon was fascinated by movement. He was particularly inspired by cinema and photography—most notably the work of Eadweard Muybridge, whose images captured moving figures in successive frames. Since the dawn of his practice Bacon had set out to paint what he described as the “emanation” of his subjects: the pulsations of energy that flowed through their veins and sent their spirit out into the world. He, in turn, drew heavily upon the motions and impulses of his own nervous system, seeking—as he put it—to “trap this living fact alive.” In the present work, his figure descends into metamorphosis. Harrison, in his commentary on the painting, invokes what the philosopher and Bacon scholar Gilles Deleuze termed “derisory athleticism”: a state of chaos, in which the flesh seems to escape its own confines. Like the Futurists’ depictions of speed, or Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the body is fixed in multiple positions simultaneously. The figure seems to float in free-form through time and space, his flesh sublimated by forces beyond his control.

Bacon’s exploration of motion was at its most expressive in his depictions of figural couplings. The artist drew heavily upon Muybridge’s photographs of male wrestlers, giving rise to images including the ground-breaking Two Figures (1953) and Two Figures in the Grass (1953), as well as later works such as Three Studies of Figures on Beds (1972). In Figure in Movement, two bodies seem to become one. The figure’s profile, while most suggestive of Dyer, is also evocative of the artist’s Study for Self-Portrait (1973): one of the many harrowing self-images produced during this period, in which Bacon confronted his own mortality. The fluid elision of his likeness with Dyer’s was not without precedent. The 1966 masterwork George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (Fondation Beyeler, Basel) had depicted their faces simultaneously; so too had the heart-wrenching painting Two Figures (1975). Bacon had once described the agonies of love in these very terms: “you can’t break down the barriers of skin,” he lamented. “… How can you cut your flesh open and join with the other person?” (F. Bacon, quoted in interview with G. Millar, Francis Bacon: Grand Palais, BBC TV documentary, 1971).

"[Y]ou can’t break down the barriers of skin… How can you cut your flesh open and join with the other person?"
Francis Bacon

Source Material
Muybridge’s depictions of wrestlers, for Bacon, were inextricably bound to those of Michelangelo: an artist he deeply admired. “Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together,” he explained to Sylvester, “and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo … As most of my figures are taken from the male nude, I am sure that I have been influenced by the fact that Michelangelo made the most voluptuous male nudes in the plastic arts” (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 2009, p. 114). Paul Joannides suggests that the work may have its origins in Michelangelo’s Samson and the Two Philistines (circa 1540), which Bacon knew in illustration from his copy of Martin Weinberger’s 1967 book Michelangelo: The Sculptor (P. Joannides, Francis Bacon and the Masters, exh. cat. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich 2015, p. 36). Dyer, notably—with his sculptural features and muscular physique—had always reminded Bacon of Michelangelo’s lithe figure studies. Here, his limbs are infused with a sense of statuesque grandeur, as luminous and radiant as polished marble.

The presence of a “Fury” at the painting’s edge invokes another classical source: Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Bacon was fascinated by both the original text and by T. S. Eliot’s modern retelling The Family Reunion (1939). The “Furies”, also known as the “Eumenidies” or the “Erinyes”, were the oldest and most powerful goddesses of Greek mythology, born from drops of blood. In Aeschylus’s tale, they pursue Orestes after he murders his mother. They appear, similarly, to Eliot’s protagonist Harry Monchensey, who believes he is being punished for murdering his wife. Bacon had first depicted the “Furies” in his seminal Three Studies for the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). After Dyer’s death, they began to recur in his art, based on a photograph of diving birds. Feelings of guilt haunted Bacon during these years. It was not lost on him that his previous lover, Peter Lacy, had also passed away on the eve of a major exhibition opening, almost a decade before Dyer. The artist bore the burden of this cruel replay heavily. Was he—like Orestes and Monchensey before him—doomed to suffer the retributions of fate?

Dye Transfer Lettering
Such questions certainly tapped into Bacon’s literary imagination. The artist had long devoured the Greek tragedians, existential philosophy, the poems of W. B. Yeats and the plays of William Shakespeare. After his move to Paris, he had immersed himself in intellectual and literary circles: his portrait of the great Surrealist writer Michel Leiris, notably, was painted the same year as Figure in Movement. So, too, was the landmark Triptych, 1976, a grand epic strewn with references to mythology. It is perhaps no coincidence that Bacon’s use of Letraset, or dry transfer lettering, became increasingly pronounced during this period. The first examples appeared in his art between 1969 and 1970, quivering with the ghosts of Picasso’s Cubist collages. Over time they came to spill across his canvases like fragments of discarded poetry. In certain lights they resemble the torn pages that littered his studio; in others, they call to mind the “newspapers from vacant lots” described in Eliot’s Preludes (1910-11). Here they serve as reminders of history’s turning wheels: the stories of love, life and death, rehearsed so often in literature, eventually come to us all.

Classic Baconian Devices
Bacon’s framing of the figure, too, plays into this feeling of suspended time. His full catalogue of pictorial devices is brought to bear upon the composition with almost surgical precision. The curved arena—a device that had long populated his work—becomes a revolving stage, resembling a bullfighting ring or an all-seeing eye. The arrow and circles, which Bacon derived from K. C. Clark’s 1964 book Positioning in Radiography, spotlight the figure’s flesh with the anatomical rigour of an x-ray image. The cubic space frame—a hallmark of Bacon’s practice since the 1950s—heightens this sense of clinical magnification, calling to mind the Chinagraph markings used by photographers to indicate areas for enlargement. The sensual curves of the figure slip between two and three dimensional reality, shifting in and out of focus as they pass between Bacon’s various geometric frameworks. These dynamics reflect the artist’s longstanding fascination with the work of Alberto Giacometti, who similarly grappled with questions of human space and temporality. The painting, notably, was shown opposite examples of the

That year he met John Edwards, who became his great companion and confidant, and would remain faithfully by the artist’s side for the rest of his days. The spirit of Dyer, however, would never fully fade. In Figure in Movement, Bacon bids farewell to his lover. Though threatening to dissolve into formlessness, the figure’s flesh glows with life. His profile, etched into Bacon’s psyche, is framed anew. A faint shadow falls beneath him; an ethereal luminosity glimmers on the work’s dark horizon. Movement, alive in every brushstroke, never ceases. It is a powerful image of the traces life leaves behind, and of the forces that animate them in memory.

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