On a visit to Venice in the early 1960s Sutherland was inspired by the panels of lions in high relief on the façade of the Ospedale di San Marco. These forms were translated into other animals, the present example having been suggested by a shape at the side of the road in a lane back home in Kent. The 'captive' with its shackled forelegs is reminiscent of a hippopotamus.
In 1969, Sutherland explained in a film about this work, 'I am especially fascinated by the panels of the lions with the false perspective of trompe l'oeil, and I sometimes feel a bit like Cézanne with regard to Poussin ... I must have been influenced by these two panels when I painted two pictures of animals in space, in a particular space: one was a prisoner' (see exhibition catalogue, Graham Sutherland, London, Tate Gallery, 1982, p. 150).
This form appears again in A Bestiary and Some Correspondences, 1967-8, as XXV Chained Beast, a lithograph in black, beige and violet.
A small watercolour and pastel study of The Captive was sold in these rooms on 17 November 2006, lot 83 (private collection).