FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
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FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)

Triptych 1986-7

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Triptych 1986-7
(i) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic] 1986-1987 Left Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(ii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘Tryptich [sic] 1986-1987 Center Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
(iii) signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘tryptich [sic] 1986⁄1987 Right Panel Francis Bacon’ (on the reverse)
oil, pastel, aerosol paint and dry transfer lettering on canvas, in three parts
each: 78 x 58in. (198 x 147.5cm.)
Executed in 1986-1987
Marlborough International Fine Art, Vaduz.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
M. Leiris, Francis Bacon, Barcelona 1987, p. 128, no. 151 (illustrated in colour, pp. 120-121).
G. Auty, ‘Formal fallacy’ in The Spectator, October 1988 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 39).
A. Sinclair, Francis Bacon His Life & Violent Times, New York 1993, pp. 291, 297.
W. Feaver, ‘Scrambled heads and Bacon’ in The Observer, 30 June 1996 (left hand panel illustrated, p. 12).
J-C Delpierre, ‘Francis Bacon Grand Maître’ in Beaux Art Magazine, no. 46, June 1996, no. 12 (illustrated in colour, p. 16).
D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, pp. 66 and 269, no. 95 (illustrated, p. 121).
Francis Bacon in Dublin, exh. cat., Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, p. 19.
L. Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Rome 2005, no. 16, p. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 72; left hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 72).
M. Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London 2005, p. 98.
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2008, p. 218, no. 114 (illustrated in colour, p. 217; incorrectly dated ‘1987’).
M. Harrison (ed.), Francis Bacon: New Studies, Centenary Essays, Göttingen 2009, p. 60 (incorrectly dated ‘1986’).
J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 2010, p. 203, no. 111 (illustrated, pp. 190-191).
M. Tonelli, Francis Bacon Le "Atmosfere” Letterarie, Rome 2014, p. 123, no. 42 (right hand panel illustrated, p. 123).
Francis Bacon: Late Paintings, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2015, p. 135, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, p. 136).
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume III 1958-71, London 2016, p. 640.
M. Harrison and R. Daniels (eds.), Francis Bacon Catalogue Raisonné: Volume IV 1971-92, London 2016, pp. 1318, 1322 and 1326, no. 87-01 (illustrated in colour, pp. 1323-1325; detail of right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 1327).
D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 2016, p. 202 and 232, no. 131 (illustrated in colour, p. 202; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 203).
M. Boustany (ed.), Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Monaco 2017 (installation view illustrated, p. 93).
Y. Peyré, Francis Bacon or the measure of excess, Woodbridge 2020, p. 322 (illustrated in colour, p. 278; central panel illustrated in colour, p. 279; right hand panel illustrated in colour, p. 280).
M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, London 2021, pp. 42 and 240-249.
J. Birch, Bacon in Moscow, London 2022 (illustrated in colour, pp. 178-179).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon: Paintings of the Eighties, 1987, p. 44, no. 12 (Illustrated in colour, pp. 38-39; left hand panel illustrated in colour on the front cover).
Paris, Galerie Lelong, Francis Bacon: Peintures Récentes, 1987, no. 8 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Moscow, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings, 1988, p. 68, no. 20 (illustrated in colour, pp. 66 – 68).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon: Loan Exhibition in Celebration of his 80th Birthday, 1989, pp. 7 and 42, no. 13 (central panel illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, pp. 32-34).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon Paintings, 1990, p. 38, no. 11 (illustrated in colour, pp. 28-30).
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 163, no. 59 (illustrated, pp. 127 and 163; illustrated in colour, pp. 128-130).
Saint Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne, Réalitiés Noires, 1994-1995.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Foundation Maeght, Bacon-Freud: Expressions, 1995, pp. 102 and 205, no. 28 (illustrated in colour, pp. 103-106).
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, 1996, pp. 31 and 218, no. 84 (illustrated in colour, p. 219; installation view illustrated, p. 310). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, 1999, pp. 37 and 205, no. 70 (illustrated in colour, pp. 209-211). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Francis Bacon, 2001 (illustrated in colour, pp. 112-113).
New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Francis Bacon: Paintings, 2002, pp. 4 and 27 (illustrated in colour, pp. 24-26).
Valencia, Institut Valencia d’Art Moderne IVAM, Francis Bacon: Lo Sagrado y lo Profano, 2003-2004, pp. 111 and 166 (illustrated in colour, p. 103). This exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée Maillol.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Modern Masters: Paintings, Sculpture and Prints by Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Hepworth, Kitaj, Moore, Rego, Uglow, 2005 (detail illustrated in colour on the front cover and illustrated twice, unpaged).
Siegen, Museum Fur Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Francis Bacon: Paintings of Contradiction, 2007.
Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, 2006-2007, p. 241, no. 68 (illustrated in colour, pp. 188-189).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza y Fondación Caja, The Mirror & The Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso, 2007. p. 233 and 319, no. 130 (illustrated in colour, pp. 264-265). This exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum.
Paris, Centres national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Bacon. En toutes lettres, 2019-2020, p. 111, 173 and 239 (illustrated in colour, pp. 108-110).
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Further details
We would like to thank Dr. Rebecca Daniels for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

“This is my century,” Triptych 1986-7 proclaims: “this is my life”’ (Michael Peppiatt)

An extraordinary meditation on the passage of time, and a rhapsody on the solitude of the human condition, Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7 is a masterwork that stands among his last great paintings. Across three monumental canvases—his most rare and celebrated format—the artist entwines imagery drawn from the annals of twentieth-century history with a poignant, retrospective view of his own life and art. The suited figure in the left-hand panel is based on a press clipping of U. S. President Woodrow Wilson leaving the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919; the right-hand panel was inspired by a photograph of Leon Trotsky’s study taken after his assassination in 1940. In the centre sits a figure resembling Bacon’s then-partner John Edwards, his pose reminiscent of the artist’s beloved George Dyer in the haunting eulogy Triptych August 1972 (Tate, London). Bacon had begun his career painting Crucifixions, Papal portraits and other instances of mortal reckoning; later, friends and lovers took centre stage in his chronicles of humanity. Here, the two strains combine in an image of mythic, operatic grandeur. A single lamp illuminates the fleeting trace of life upon the blood-stained sheet; the figures, though half-connected by a strip of pavement, remain locked in their own worlds. In the grand tapestries of life, death, love, art and war—the painting suggests—we are all ultimately alone.

Widely exhibited throughout its lifetime—most recently in the Centre Georges Pompidou’s acclaimed exhibition Bacon en Toutes Lettres (2019-2020)—the historic implications of Triptych 1986-7 would come to resonate on multiple levels. The year after its creation, it was one of twenty-two paintings shown at the Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: the first exhibition by a well-known artist from the West to take place in Soviet Russia. Many viewers did not recognise the Trotsky photograph as a source, but to those who did, the painting’s presence heralded a sea-change: the Iron Curtain, notably, would fall the next year. Following its inclusion in major exhibitions at the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano in 1993 and the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1996, the work made its American institutional debut in the Yale Center for British Art’s celebrated 1999 touring retrospective. As it travelled the country from East to West to South, its rare nod to U. S. history would certainly have resonated with American audiences. Wilson emerges from the darkness, his face pale and the weight of the world on his shoulders: as Grey Gowrie wrote in his introduction to the Moscow exhibition, this image alone ‘must be one of Bacon’s greatest paintings’ (G. Gowrie, introduction to the catalogue for Francis Bacon: Paintings, Central House of Artists, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 1988).

Presented at auction for the first time, the work is one of a rare number of large-scale triptychs by Bacon to remain in private hands. Between 1962 and 1991, the artist produced just 28 such works measuring 78 by 58 inches, nearly half of which reside in museums worldwide. Recalling the grand altarpieces of Grünewald and Cimabue, the seminal 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate, London) had announced Bacon’s arrival as an artist. He would go on to expand the genre to near-cinematic proportions, coming full circle with a second blood-red version of the 1944 triptych—also now held in the Tate—shortly after the present work. Compositionally, the closest cousin of Triptych 1986-7 remains the 1972 ‘black triptych’ produced in memory of Dyer, where dark canvas-like voids and haunting, liquefied shadows frame the human form. These devices would also play important roles in Three PortraitsPosthumous Portrait of George Dyer; Self-Portrait; Portrait of Lucian Freud (1973) and Triptych March 1974 (Fondación Juan March, Madrid), as well as the artist’s final Triptych of 1991 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The depiction of Wilson’s shoes shares much in common with Bacon’s Study for a Self-PortraitTriptych (1985-1986), while its conflation of political and private histories might be seen in relation to the landmark Triptych (1976), which takes an image of Sir Austen Chamberlain as its source. It is a vivid summation of the genre as it played out within Bacon’s oeuvre, brought to an enigmatic and elegiac crescendo.

For Bacon, life was as thrilling and epic as the sagas of Greek mythology and Shakespeare: all of us, he believed—in our own ways—would navigate the dramas of romance, politics, joy and tragedy that defined these tales. By the time of the present work, Bacon had lived through almost the full gamut of the twentieth century, where World Wars and political machinations raged against a backdrop of personal triumph and turmoil. On one hand, he was basking in the extraordinary success of his 1985 retrospective at Tate, whose Director Sir Alan Bowness had named him the ‘greatest living painter’. On the other hand, he was still haunted by Dyer’s heart-wrenching death, and had spent much of the previous decade in painterly confrontation with his own mortality. Two extraordinary self-portraits from that period depict Bacon with a watch. In one, its ticking hand seems to merge organically with his own face—it is perhaps no coincidence that the historic time-span of the present work’s source images equates almost directly to the length of Bacon’s existence. In drawing together elements from all eras of his practice, moreover, the work sets this temporal framework in the context of a life lived in paint. Trotsky’s lectern, in another reading, could just as easily be an easel; its sheet, stained with blood, might be a half-begun canvas. Art and life slip in and out of focus across the work’s three panels, each illuminated like a beacon against the void.


Bacon was avowedly not a history painter in the traditional sense: his works, he maintained, were never intended as narratives, and fundamentally resisted linear interpretation. Nevertheless, for an artist who avidly devoured source material from books, newspapers, films and journals, the ‘History of Europe in My Lifetime’ was never far from his mind (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 55). ‘Everything I’ve seen has gone in and been ground up very fine’, Bacon proclaimed: indeed, having lived through one of the world’s most turbulent periods of social and political upheaval, the events of the twentieth century would come to form something of a barometer for his own existence (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait. Essays and Interviews, revised edition, London 2021, p. 41). As Michael Peppiatt highlights, fascinating context for the present work exists in the form of a 1954 letter to Sonia Orwell, the widow of the author George Orwell, in which Bacon professes his desire to compile a book of photographs entwining his own life story with the last forty years of history. In it, the artist explains, ‘you would not know whether it was imagination or fact … as the photographs themselves of events could be distorted into a personal private meaning … as though one was seeing the story of one’s time for the first time’ (F. Bacon, quoted in M. Hammer, Bacon and Sutherland, London and New Haven 2005, pp. 97–98). Interestingly, though the publication never came to fruition, Martin Harrison points out that the podium on which the central Dyer-Edwards figure sits resembles a half-open book (M. Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London 2016, p. 1326).

Bacon’s historical impulses found early expression in his early Popes and Crucifixions. Though a staunch atheist, the artist pored over painterly renderings of these subjects, finding in them flashes of the human condition at its most raw. In the existentialist aftermath of the Second World War, Velázquez’s enigmatic Portrait of Innocent X (circa 1650) seemed to speak directly to the spirit of the times, resonating with contemporary photographs of Pope Pius XII who had reigned during the conflict. Like the figures in Bacon’s Crucifixions, reduced to writhing, tormented masses of flesh, his Popes became ghostly spectres, shattering the picture plane in primal screams or cowering in stony silence. The notion that even the divinely-ordained were still imprisoned by their mortal condition resurfaces here. Wilson is reduced to a pale, skull-like effigy, echoing Bacon’s most haunted renderings of Il Papa; the central figure, too, seems to echo the enthroned stance of these figures. The flash of blood, meanwhile—writes Robert Rosenblum—stands as residue of a ‘secular tragedy’, conjuring ‘the mystery and drama of Christ’s stigmata’ (R. Rosenblum, Francis Bacon: Paintings, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, New York 2002, p. 4).

The present work’s source photographs joined a raft of historical imagery that littered Bacon’s studio. The picture of Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay at the Paris Peace Conference was taken from a newspaper, while the image of Trotsky’s study derived from the book Trotsky: A Documentary (1972), published by his friend Francis Wyndham and David King. Interestingly, alongside images of dictators, henchmen and rallies, Bacon’s studio contained a spread from D. C. Somervell’s 1951 book 100 Years in Pictures, depicting riots in St Petersburg in 1917. He also amassed numerous images of assassinations: pictures of the deaths of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy were found in his holdings, the latter becoming the source for the red diagrammatic arrows that became particularly prominent during his later work. While Bacon was attracted to such images primarily for their compositional qualities, it could not have escaped his attention that many of these murders seemed like stories straight from the archives of mythology. Trotsky’s assassination, conducted with an ice pick, stands as a particularly vivid example: the typography upon the sheet seems to consign it directly to legend.

Much like the Popes and the Crucifixions, the painting’s dialogue with past imagery is also grounded in the history of art. The suited figure of Wilson conjures memories of Edvard Munch’s Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892) and Edgar Degas’ Portraits at the Stock Exchange (1876)—both artists whom Bacon admired. Ghosts of René Magritte’s bowler-hatted men, too, flicker in the shadows: notably La Décalcomanie (1966), which similarly plays with the presence and absence of the human form. Though the central figure still bears the hallmarks of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and others who guided Bacon’s male nudes during the 1960s, the work also witnesses a dialogue with more contemporary, non-European art forms. Despite professing his distaste for Abstract Expressionism, Bacon was undeniably influenced by his encounters with Colour Field painting and gestural abstraction: the sparse architecture of the three canvases recalls the haunting solitude of Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings, while the visceral dash of red conjures the mythic canvases of Cy Twombly. The work’s recourse to a photograph of an American president, meanwhile, might even be seen within the context of artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, who—though operating from very different standpoints—were similarly entrenched in their own Zeitgeists.


In 1971, Bacon was preparing for what was then the high-point of his career to date. The Grand Palais in Paris was mounting a major retrospective of his work, making him the only living artist other than Picasso to be granted the honour. On the eve of the exhibition’s opening, however, tragedy struck when his lover George Dyer—the man whose form had been the lifeblood of Bacon’s art for the past decade—died in the hotel room they were sharing. The event would have a devastating impact on Bacon, giving rise to an outpouring of works in which he attempted to come to terms with his grief. The three ‘black triptychs’ produced in mourning for Dyer stand today among the twentieth century’s most harrowing paintings. In their wake, Bacon would begin to contemplate the prospect of his own death, painting a near-obsessive stream of self-portraits in which he stared his mortal condition directly in the eye. Time, he was all too aware, was passing, taking with it those he had loved the most. Dyer’s image would continue to linger in his art until his death: the distinctive postures and profile, immortalised in earlier paintings and photographs, would never fully subside.

Though the 1980s was a period of professional triumph for Bacon, it was also a time of introspection. His 1985 Tate exhibition—his last retrospective, he declared—cemented his place in history. ‘The cultural establishment sent a clear signal’, writes Peppiatt: ‘… Bacon was to painting what Henry Moore had long been to sculpture, an undisputed world-class master, and as such a national asset’ (M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 381). Bacon went to view the show on its Berlin leg, making his first trip there since he had travelled to the city as a young man in the heady days of the 1920s. Other opportunities for retrospective contemplation presented themselves in the form of the National Gallery’s 1985 exhibition The Artists Eye, for which Bacon was invited to select a number of his favourite paintings from the collection. It was a place that the artist had visited on numerous occasions, and had long nourished his visual imagination. Among the works he chose was Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (circa 1867-1868): the critic David Sylvester, notably, would later describe the present work’s image of Wilson as among the artist’s clearest debt to the French master (D. Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 66).

If Triptych 1986-7 spoke of a life lived in art, however, it did so with one eye firmly upon the present moment. John Edwards, whom Bacon had met at the Colony Club in 1974, became a great source of comfort and companionship during his final two decades. He also became a significant muse, featuring in more than twenty portraits including the exceptional triptych Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984). His presence here in cricket pads—a motif that recurs throughout Bacon’s late works—seems to quell some of the darkness latent in the haunting echoes of Dyer, as if finally making some headway towards exorcising the pain of loss. Monarch-like, writes Robert Rosenblum writes, he takes centre stage, ‘directing the traffic of human passions’. In this role, he suggests, ‘he is given perhaps even greater authority than the major historical figures who frame him, providing for Bacon a personal link in a seesawing balance between public and private history’ (R. Rosenblum, ibid).

If Edwards rooted Bacon in the here and now, the Moscow exhibition would make the contemporary relevance of his art even more apparent. It was Edwards, in fact, who took Bacon’s place on the trip, after ill health forced him to stay at home. The artist had been excited by the prospect of visiting Soviet Russia, particularly having taken the opportunity to visit East Berlin during his stay in the city two years prior. Organised by the young curator James Birch, the exhibition encompassed major works from all periods of Bacon’s career, including Head VI (1949; Arts Council Collection, London), Landscape Near Malabata, Tangier (1963), Lying Figure (1969; Fondation Beyeler) and Triptych 1974-1977. Unlike anything seen before in the Soviet Union, the exhibition became a historical and cultural landmark: many artists, including Ilya Kabakov, left inspired, while comments left in the visitor’s book attest to the show’s impact upon a nation slowly emerging from years of oppression. Not since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 had Bacon’s art seemed so in tune with its time—the ideological warfare alluded to by the work’s outer two images was, at last, beginning to subside.

Triptych 1986-7 also attests to some of the more radical developments in Bacon’s visual language during this period. Far from slowing down as he approached his eightieth birthday, the artist became bolder than ever before, experimenting with new media and dramatically streamlining his vision. Bacon’s recurrent use of dry transfer lettering, or ‘Letraset’, offered more than a nod to his hero Pablo Picasso, while his use of materials such as pastel and spray paint infused his surfaces with a sense of ethereal magic. His figures, who once inhabited lush carpeted rooms, were now encased in stark geometric chambers, their carnal forms all the more highly-charged against dark, minimal backdrops. In the present work, Bacon offsets the staggering verticality of the black voids with the thin horizontal line of the pavement, creating a towering structural framework that emphasises the isolation of each protagonist. ‘Great art is always a way of concentrating … what we know of our existence’, he said, ‘... tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time’ (F. Bacon, interview with H. Davies, 26 June 1973, in H. Davies and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 110). A stark, singular truth resounds in the triptych’s empty halls: that time marches onwards, bearing us with it into the abyss.


Significantly, for Bacon, the triptych was an inherently temporal genre. For an artist who had long admired cinema and motion photography, the concept of serialised images was deeply linked to the idea of changing time frames. ‘[Triptychs are] the thing I like doing most,’ he said, ‘and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, ibid., p. 100). From Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin to Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, Bacon was fascinated by the aesthetics of moving pictures: particularly given their role in the cultural landscape of the twentieth century. It was only during his lifetime that history had truly begun to capture itself on film and camera, and—as Bacon’s source imagery attests—to make itself readily available for public consumption. The images selected by the artist are undeniably cinematic in scope; the dark screens that loom behind the figures, too, seem to flicker like the black-out between scenes. The three panels, seemingly unconnected, appear like fragments plucked from a reel of footage. Time is written into the work’s very structure: like Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the protagonists are simultaneous, yet worlds apart.

In a review of Bacon’s 1987 exhibition at Galerie Lelong in Paris—where the present work made its European debut—the critic Michel Nurisdany wrote of the ‘universal truth’ inherent in the artist’s various depictions of human solitude. ‘Rarely has a contemporary artist been so rigorous, so unwavering in his attachment to the space in which he paints’, he declared: ‘the universal uprooting of modern times … His characters—scraped together, distorted in motion—rise up in empty, confined, almost abstract spaces punctuated only by a wall, a curve, or a straight line on the floor’ (M. Nurisdany, ‘Francis Bacon: face-à-face avec la solitude’, Le Figaro, 29 September 1987). Perhaps Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘All the world’s a stage’ rang in Bacon’s ears as he ran a single slab of concrete beneath Wilson’s feet and Trotsky’s lectern, and raised his central protagonist onto a dais. Upon these platforms, three facets of a lifetime play out: we make decisions; we form relationships; we are gone. Whether signing a treaty, leading a revolution or simply playing a game of cricket, Bacon understood that we each travel life’s pathways in our own, singular temporalities. In Triptych 1986-7, the point echoes three times over: whatever the role we come to play, we are all bound by the same lonely fate.

Ultimately, then, the specifics of Bacon’s historical references fade away. In his triple portrait of the human condition lies a portrait of his own life: of an existence that, like any other, rode the twists and turns of its own destiny. Where some wrote their stories through pen or politics, his was etched into the very fibres of his canvases, each brimming with images, events, people and emotions that filtered through his nervous system onto the blank space before him. A liquid shadow pools beneath the central figure; the lamp—like the naked bulbs Bacon suspended in so many of his portraits—illuminates the transition of flesh. At any moment, the image seems to suggest, its light might be forever extinguished. Even as it slipped from his grasp, Bacon took time firmly by the hand, distilling past, present, public and private into an image of profound and intoxicating power.

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