Lucian Freud first met Francis Bacon in 1945. He had heard about this mysterious and distinctive artist from Graham Sutherland. Freud recalled that, 'I said, rather tactlessly, to Graham 'who do you think's the best painter in England?' He said 'Oh, someone you've never heard of; he's like a cross between Vuillard and Picasso; he's never shown and he has the most extraordinary life; we sometimes go to dinner parties there' (Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, 'Lucian Freud: Life into Art' pp. 12-50, Lucian Freud, exh. cat., ed. W. Feaver, London, 2002, p. 26). Within a short time, Sutherland had arranged for both young artists to join him for a weekend at his home in the country, and they met at the station on the way there. 'Once I met him I saw him a lot' (Freud, quoted in ibid., p. 26). The pair enjoyed an intense and productive friendship, and it was only natural that they should begin to feature in each other's pictures, Freud appearing in Bacon's oils and Bacon appearing in a number of works by Freud, including the present drawing executed in 1951. This, then, is a work that provides an insight into the relationship between two of the most famous artists of the so-called 'School of London' that R.B. Kitaj had identified.
When Bacon first painted Freud in 1951, as was so often the case, he did not depict his sitter from life, but instead used other media as a prompt and inspiration, most importantly a snapshot of Kafka. One evening in that same year, Freud drew Bacon at Clifton Hill. As he prepared himself to pose for his friend, Bacon said, 'I think you ought to use these,' easing his trousers off and indicating his hips. For Bacon, such a characteristic element as this distinctive portion of his own physique was the type of prompt that he would use in order to eke out his image, using different strokes for different features. By contrast, the ever-analytical Freud, a consummate draughtsman, concentrated on what he saw, what was in front of his eyes, as opposed his friend's inspired leaps from hazard to hazard, from guess to guess, from inspiration to inspiration. Freud executed three drawings on this occasion, of which the present work is one. In it, one can see the deft simplicity of the lines with which Freud has captured his friend's features. At the same time, the pose, with the trousers unhitched, reveal Freud's ability to capture the character of his subject. As well as pictorially providing an angularity to Francis Bacon, this pose hints at the subject's carnal and even bohemian nature.
In 1952 Bacon sat for Freud for a celebrated portrait in oils. The painting was done in two or three months-- Bacon apparently, 'he grumbled but sat consistently' (Freud, quoted in ibid., p. 26). They sat knee to knee, Bacon looking downwards, his head filling the small copper plate. Intriguingly, that downward gaze is prefigured in the 1951 drawing, implying that this contemplative pose was a continuous feature in the artist. The celebrated oil portrait was in the collection of the Tate, but was stolen during the 1988 exhibition while touring in Berlin; its whereabouts are now unknown. Of the various likenesses that Freud created of his friend, then, there remain only an unfinished painting dated 1956-57 and the three drawings including Study of Francis Bacon. Lucian Freud was in turn the subject of many of Bacon's works throughout the years.
The sense of line that informs Study of Francis Bacon is almost calligraphic; however, Freud became increasingly aware of the linear component in his work and, three years after this picture was executed, he abandoned drawing as an independent artistic activity for a number of years. This linear characteristic was true of his oils as well as his works on paper, and it was following this revelation that he turned away from the fine and highly-finished enamel-like surfaces of his earlier works towards the new rougher, more sensual and more painterly manner that still informs his oeuvre to this day.