George Dyer was Bacon's companion and lover between 1964 and 1971, when Dyer committed suicide on the opening day of Bacon's retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Born in the East End of London, Dyer was a petty criminal, and had been severely beaten and disfigured by gangland associates. His distinctive profile (the Roman nose) was the result of reconstructive surgery; Dyer's mother told Bacon that it had made him beautiful. Dyer was an alcoholic and drug user who depended on Bacon and was employed as his handyman. Dyer was muscular in the way that Bacon liked, but at the same time was a gentle human being.
Bacon began to paint Dyer soon after their first meeting. As was his standard method, Bacon commissioned John Deakin to photograph his portrait subjects and based his paintings on the photographs and his memory (fig. 1). Discussing this practice, Bacon said, "I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and their photographs than actually having them seated there before me... What I want to do is distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance." Bacon painted alone in the studio without the sitter: "They inhibit me, because, if I like them, I don't want to practise before them the injury in private by which I think I can record the fact of them more clearly" (D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1962-1979, London, 1980, pp. 40-41).
Bacon painted Dyer for more than a decade, continuing to portray him after his death as a way of exorcising grief. The first pictures are joyous, even playful, for example, Three Figures in a Room, 1964 (Muse National d'Art Moderne, Paris) and George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966 (Collection Beyeler, Basel); yet the strains of their relationship are evident in other works, such as George Dyer Crouching (private collection) and George Dyer Staring at a Blind Cord (Collection Maestri, Italy), both of 1966.
In the present work a degree of lyricism is created by the relative stasis of the figure and the carpeted background. Bacon has placed Dyer in a characteristically semi-circular space and made it decorative. A similar background is depicted in the 1966 Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (private collection) and a more painterly version of it in Three Portraits: Posthumous Portrait of George Dyer, Self-Portrait, Portrait of Lucian Freud of 1973 (private collection), where Dyer is depicted as a modification of the twisting, seated figure. Dyer's face is turned to one side in almost all cases, reflecting Deakin's photograph portrait; the area of greatest erotic pleasure for Bacon is marked by a circular device (similar to those he had found in radiography studies) which he used to register and highlight his excitement. Bacon dramatically intensified his painting of these erotic areas by scumbling, throwing and forcing the painted surface; the results are unfailingly disturbing.
David Sylvester asked Bacon, "When you're painting a portrait, are you at all conscious of trying to say something about your feelings in regard to the model or about what the model might be feeling, or are you only thinking about their appearance?" Bacon replied, "Every form that you make has an implication, so that, when you are painting somebody, you know that you are, of course, trying to get near not only to their appearance but also to the way they have affected you, because every shape has an implication" (ibid., p. 130).
(fig. 1) Photograph of George Dyer by John Deakin, 1962. Found in Bacon's studio, splattered with oil paint.