Bacon and the Body

Psychoanalytic approaches to Bacon’s art have tended to focus either on biograpical links between his early life and his painting, or on importing portions of theory to elucidate the composition and dynamics of the work. Curiously, these approaches have come more from art critics and theorists than from analysts, and Bacon himself did his best to discourage them throughout his career. Relentlessly opposed to narrative explanations, his position was ultimately to reject the very category of explanation itself, with his well-known scepticism about the search for meaning within his works.

At the same time, both journalists and scholars have been well aware that what Bacon said about his life and his art was often deliberately misleading. Biographical data have been obfuscated or deleted, and pronouncements about the way he painted have been shown to be, at the very least, diversionary. This reinforces the idea of a hidden Bacon, and indeed, it is certain that a great deal remains to be discovered not only about his early life but about aspects of his practice as a painter.

And yet Bacon’s own detours and diversions can be illuminating in themselves. The mythology he constructed may itself contain the hidden material we search for behind it, just as the painting may offer us the clues we seek in plain sight. In this chapter, I will explore some of these themes, using both the biography and the painting as sources. If we succeed in generating meanings, these, as we shall see, are continually offset by the problem of how to situate them. They may be no more than the small accidents that Bacon would speak of, foreclosing any notion of a single narrative which viewers of his work so often solicit.


Let’s start with Bacon’s own reactions to the search for meaning, and in particular, to a psychoanalytic approach to his work. David Sylvester’s questions throughout their collected interviews are steeped in a crude Freudianism: does Bacon love and hate his objects simultaneously? Is the jet of water an ejaculation? (1) Bacon’s responses are invariably negative, yet rather than simply seeing this as either a defense or as a legitimate rebuttal of a reductive framework, we can see negation as in fact quite central to his style. Even if the questions are not psychoanalytic at all, Bacon’s answers inherently reject the signifers that are offered to him or imposed on him.

Whether it concerns the influence of Picasso or Ingres, or of the Surrealists or Rembrandt, or of the Freudian unconscious imputed to him, Bacon’s position remains coherent: he says ‘No’. It seems extraordinary today reading through decades of interviews from the 1950s to the 80s to find the exact same questions being posed to Bacon, when the responses could be predicted beforehand by a computer. So many of these interviews are just the same interview, with the same questions and the same answers. Whether it is a ‘No’ or a ‘Not really’, Bacon practices a systematic negation.

It would be difficult here to avoid the question of negation in his painting. Just as Picasso was celebrated for his prodigous production, so Bacon was celebrated for an equally prodigous destruction of canvases. Although this can be linked to the problem of using unprimed canvas, where many mistakes cannot be corrected, it was clearly already a part of Bacon’s style, as he destroyed so many of the works before he even began to use the unprimed side. Creating itself, he commented to Michel Archimbaud, “is a process of continuous rejection” (2).

In both the interviews and in his practice, we find the operator of negation busy at work. Life itself, he would say, “from birth to death, is a long destruction”(3). In conversation too, it is well-documented how positive references to other artists would inevitably lead, towards the end of the night, to denigrations. Even Picasso, often acknolwedged as an influence, would not be spared. No one got it right, and although Bacon would often disparage his own work, it is clear that he believed that he occupied, at some level, the place of an exception.

We need to ask the question here of what, exactly, Bacon was negating. The answer is perhaps very simple: debt. Just as he would reject any statement of another artist’s influence, so in his personal life, Bacon would always pay the bills. Whether it was bankrolling his lovers and ex-es or hosting dinners at Wheelers or even attempting to pay for his own gallery dinner, he would be the one footing the bill, something that, at one level, he clearly enjoyed. The moment that he received his first advance from the Marlborough, he used it to pay off what he owed to the Hanover (4). And we can note that in the long, tempestuous friendship with Denis Wirth-Miller, the only really serious rupture occured when the latter suggested that Bacon had been ungenerous (5).

The erasure of debt that characterises his personal life also marks his own mythologising of his artistic pedigree. Picasso may have inspired him, but we don’t find him acknowledging how De Maistre or Sutherland may have helped him. Indeed, in his meetings with the Tate director John Rothenstein, he brings up Sutherland on almost every occasion over a period of several years, always to disparage him and to show how Sutherland himself hid his sources. He would endlessly repeat a story of how the latter’s wife had hidden a Picasso book under a bed when Bacon entered, in order to conceal how Sutherland was squaring up his canvas using this as a template (6). Rather than reading the vignette as the index of mere competition between rivals, it indicates a more structural position: to be someone without debts.

[ images of 1944 ‘Three Figures’ detail and De Maistre ‘Figure by Bath’ detail ]

The negation of debt opens up a number of interesting questions, from Bacon’s use of gambling to the use of models and photography in his art. Rebecca Daniels has drawn attention to David Sylvester’s unpublished ‘Memoirs of a Mug’ an animadversion on gambling which describes a system he set up with Bacon in the early 50s (7). The artist opened a bookmakers account and Sylvester would pick the horses, although Bacon was in contact with stables and would at times try to override his friend’s choices. Bacon, he says, “didn’t really awake me to the idea of gambling, only to the reality of gambling, which is that gambling is gambling only when one does it beyond one’s means”(8).

He linked this to Bacon’s art: “..he had the courage to gamble in everything he did: the way he worked, for example, often entailed turning a successful picture into a ruin within minutes in the effort to take it further – that is to say, he painted as if he was playing up his winnings, so that, like a gambler who does this, he was forever building up something up and up only to finish with nothing”. This means, of course, contracting a debt rather than erasing one, suggesting that the place of exception that Bacon aspired to was always asymptotic.

There was clearly a debt for Bacon that could not be cancelled, and hence his perpetual efforts to erase it. We might guess here that one of the reasons for this was that the debt was situated at a level that did not overlap with the attempt to repay it: a symbolic debt, for example, cannot be paid for with empirical money. We could remember here that not only had Bacon stolen money from his father, but would regularly place bets for him. This was a man who, indeed, as Bacon said with relish, was a “failed” racehorse trainer and whose marraige was predicated on an economic imbalance: his wife Winifred came from a far wealthier background.

Sylvester makes another interesting point here: gamblers, he writes, tend “to use one form of gambling as a means of losing what they’ve won through another form”. Doesn’t this succint statement describe Bacon’s programme throughout a large part of the 1930s, 40s and 50s? Bacon’s correspondence from his many stays in Monte Carlo illustrates this with little ambiguity: picture money is converted into roulette money in a cycle which would continue well after his establishment as a successful artist in London (9).

Bacon describes this position in slightly different terms when he evokes the Eumenides. These creatures, the tormenters of Orestes, were activated by an unpaid debt, and Bacon would often refer to them, introducing them into his paintings on several occasions. As he became more and more drunk, he would tell a perpelexed Swiss camera crew that he “sees” the Furies and that they would often “visit” him. When he tells Ronald Alley that “I began” with the Tate triptych of 1944, it is in this sense of beginning with the Eumenides that the three creatures embodied for him ((10). His later association of the mauling of Acteon by hounds with the Furies reinforces this nexus of father-dogs-furies (11) and raises the question of how the production of art can be understood as a way to keep them at bay.

The inordinate tips that Bacon would bestow on all his service providers may have served a similar purpose: the annulment of a debt that seems to have perpetuated every level of the painter’s life.


If we turn now to the question of models and photographs, the motif of debt has a further resonance. When Lucian Freud arrived to sit for his portrait, he found it already almost finished, with a photo of Kafka serving as a partial template (12). Bacon’s subjects were often puzzled by his failure to adhere to the traditional ritual of a sitting, and he prefered to work from photos and memory. This indicates perhaps a cancellation of debt or of influence – at least at a visual level – and his use of photographs echos this. He would rarely cite an exact source for his images, and it has been left to the careful work of scholars to establish this (13).

But there is much more to the question of photographs, and we need to situate Bacon’s use of the two-dimensional image in relation to the body here. What we find so often is the appeal to a photographic template to structure the ‘subject’ that Bacon is working with, whether it was the Kafka photo for Freud, an Egyptian statuette for a portrait of Lisa Sainsbury or the Muybridge wrestlers for the ‘Two Figures’. As Bacon commented, “I very often think of people’s bodies that I’ve known. I think of the contours of those bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted very often onto Muybridge’s bodies. I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known” (14).

The sequence here is perhaps frequently inverted, with the ‘known’ bodies being manipulated in the direction of photographs, but there is nonetheless a significant use of the two-dimensional image in relation to the body as such. But what is the body here? What kind of a body would require the introduction of a surface? The answer is simple: the human body, which, from its earliest experience of uncoordination and drive tension, fixes on either a mirror image or on the image of another child to try to find its envelope. Lacan’s mirror phase is just this, the aspiration towards a two-dimensional image which promises some form of mastery of the experience of the body (15).

Bacon was particualry interested in the way that humans relate to their mirror image, and cited this as one of the things that drew him to monkeys: they are like us, he said, in that they are fascinated by their own mirror image, even if, unlike us, they make no effort to hide this (16). Hugh Davies remarks that Bacon “was fascinated not only in looking at mirrors but of seeing others in mirrors, as they look at you direct or via the mirror”. This was no doubt one of the attractions of the Colony (17). “One thing I’d like to have”, he mused, “is an enormous room lined with distorting mirrors from floor to ceiling. Every so often there’d be a normal mirror inset among the distorting ones. People would look so beautiful when they passed in front of it” (18).

The round mirror, indeed, seems to have followed Bacon from one studio to the next, and Hugh Davies notes how in Reece Mews Bacon had the large mirror facing the doorway into the living room and “continually looks at himself while entering the room” (19). At Narrow Steet, two large floor to ceiling mirrors were placed so that “one is continally surprised by one’s own reflection”. Davies refers here to “a kind of objective Narcissism, seeing oneself without prearranged features..”, and observes how many of Bacon’s recent works have this same setting of a figure in a doorway, with the implication that he was watching himself in the mirror.

And this is where things get more complex. Bacon tells Davies that “the reflection you see is not the same as yourself, it is a reversed image” (20). So the body and the reflected body image do not coincide. But there is a further element, beyond the body surface as such and the reflected image: in Bacon’s words, “there is the appearance and there is the energy within the appearance. And that is an extremely difficult thing to trap” (21). Although Bacon’s terms change, what remains constant is the antinomy between the body image and something else that is present in the body yet which defies ready subsumption in the image.

Lacan designated the surface image i(a), to empahsise its place as envelope, with the (a) a bodily excess that could never be absorbed into that image (22). Hence the ultimate failure of all operations in the register of i(a) that aim at containment or suture. The two-dimensional image i(a) may be used to try to house this, yet it will never be able to succeed, for structural reasons: the imaginary coating cannot contain this traumatic excess. This is persumably one of the reasons why Bacon’s paintings are so popular with Lacanians: the smudged emanations which start to exude from Bacon’s figures from the late 1950s onwards figure this impossible cohabitation between i(a) and (a).

As Bacon put it, “How are we going to make our body, our experience between birth and death, into an image?” (23). If the body contains something that cannot by its very nature be put into an image, what kind of image can express this impossibility? If in Shakespeare’s time ‘To be or not to be’ was a sentence that would have struck terror into its audience, he observed, the painter today must take ‘To be and not to be’ as his central problem, the making and unmaking of the image (24). Hence Bacon’s remarks on his painting distorting the body “into reality” rather than out of it, and of the importance of “deformation” as a way of accessing what is most real. Once this fundamental problem of cohabitation is recognised, many aspects of Bacon’s painting become clearer.

The 1971 triptych ‘In Memory of George Dyer’ shows by the failure to coincide of the figure and its mirror image, how the human body cannot be mapped into visual space, or, more precisely, if it’s going to be mapped into visual space, there will always be a remainder, some part of the image which we can’t see, which is blurred. The reflection itself drips down, a substantial mass which, fundamentally, inhabits another dimension to the rest of the image. This excess that cannot be housed in the image is perhaps embodied with greatest clarity in the 1983 ‘Sand Dune’, which we could see as the logical conclusion of Bacon’s portraiture: the opaque mass has taken centre stage to the exclusion of the human figure.


This allows us to understand one of the uses of secondary representation for Bacon: an appeal to the image to frame and structure a bodily excess. Tellingly, he even refers to his projected sculptures as “images”, as if the two-dimensional plane had to be present (25). He needed this image to map the overproximity of the body, yet unlike other artists who who hoped to generate i(a) without a remainder, it is exactly the remainder that Bacon included within the image. Inevitably, this could only take on the form of distortion or excess, the vissistudes of which certainly change over the course of Bacon’s career.

The place of the body image is echoed in the glass that he insisted his work should appear beneath. Although he denied that this was to allow reflection of viewers, the phenomenon was noted from as early as 1951 by Robert Melville and it is an undeniable part of encountering Bacon’s work. Even Sylvester was not convinced by Bacons’ claim that the glass was there to “unify the picture” (26). The body image is summoned here in order to challenge it, whereas in the paintings themselves the two-dimensional image is evoked in two distinct ways: as a template to absord the overproximity and traumatic excess of the body, and as a way of incarnating the failure of this very process of absorption.

We can see Bacon’s exploration of this failure in works like the 1970 ‘Triptych – Studies of the Human Body’, where, as Sylvester notes, the figure in the right-hand panel gazes into a non-existent pool in search of their reflection, echoing the pose of Caravaggio’s ‘Narcissus’ (27). As Martin Harrison puts it, Bacon “suspended” his Narcissus, “denying him altogether the reflection of his image” (28). Even in an early work like the 1936 ‘Studio Interior’, the easel has the form of a flat mirror surface, juxtaposed to the human figure, whose skirt seems to intrude into the plane itself, as if to suggest the heterogeneity that will become more obvious in the later works.

Bacon’s reworking of this basic problematic generated some of his most intriguing and powerful work. In the 1987 ‘Triptych’, mirror planes or a canvas have replaced the body entirely, while in the 1988 ‘Study from the human body and portrait’ a painting on the wall is counterpoint to a severed fleshy figure which exudes a substantial mirror-like shadow. The shadow here invites comparison to a reflection, due to the formal echo, yet it resists this at the same time, as it is clearly massy and corporeal in itself. Once again (a) and i(a) fail to coincide.

This irresolvable tension means that neither Bacon’s mirrors nor his shadows do what mirrors and shadows are supposed to do. In the 1982 ‘Study for Self-portrait’, the mirror is behind the figure, whose head seems to both fade into it and emerge from it. The paintings that Bacon would often reproduce within his paintings have this same function, the introduction of a two-dimensional surface, while at the same time illuminating the relation between the surface of the canvas and the painter’s own body.

John Richardson describes how Bacon would let his stubble grow for several days and then rehearse brushtrokes on his face in front of a mirror, with his signature revolving strokes and smears first practised with make-up (29). Lucian Freud observed how Bacon would also use his forearm to mix paints, and Nigel Cooke has noted how his blushing pinks and violets have the matte powdery finish of make-up (30). As Harrison puts it, “Bacon was always painting himself”, quite literally (31).

Even in the early portrait of Bacon by Roy de Maistre, the presence of make-up is a central part of the body image, and we can see a continuity between the application of paint to the body and onto canvas, and then the subsequent application of make-up to prepare him for his “drifting” after he left the studio. If at one level, what Bacon was doing was trying to turn the body into an image, at another he was producing work in which an image was turned into a body, as the surfaces of his paintings were themselves a kind of flesh. This peculiar relation to the mirror forms a part of the specificity of Bacon’s work.

If Bacon could say that “My life is a reflection” and that “My work is a reflection of my life” (32), we can also find a rare exception to his style of negation in the following exchange with Sylvester:

Sylvester: ‘As you’re painting a figure you feel its gesture in your own body.

Bacon ‘Yes, I do’ (33).


In their discussion of reflecting surfaces, Bacon told Hugh Davies that “A mirror seems to compose an image in an immediate way because you see that image in a certain scale and frame” (34). This question of scale and frame can help us to situate the small format portraits, where Bacon seems to dispense for the most part with mirrors and other reflecting surfaces. But there is the broader question here of how portraits in general functioned for Bacon and why, at certain periods of his life, he would produce so many of them. What was a portrait for Bacon?

The mutiple images of George Dyer tend to be interpreted as resulting from a mourning process after the latter’s death in 1971. The paintings commemorate and, for some commentators, testify to the artist’s guilt. But we should perhaps not jump to this conclusion too swiftly. Mourning processes, it’s true, involve a rearticulation of the image, but this affects not simply the image of the one we have lost but equally, and often even more so, our own image. As a loved one passes, we are left with the question of what we were for them, and hence the focus on self-images that can preoccupy the mourner, to the point of non-recognition of one’s own body image. Art history is filled with examples of self-portraiture following bereavement, in the effort to re-establish one’s image (35).

I would approach both the portraits and the self-portraits from this perspective, as if their activation was triggered by a change in this point from which the person sees themself. Bacon’s doctor, Paul Brass, observes indeed how he would work on self-portraits to lift himself out of depressive episodes (36). The 1971 triptych of Dyer, Bacon and Freud clearly gives the figures of the subject’s own ego, the identifications on which the ego is based. Bacon was attracted to Dyer’s image and we can note the curious mirroring that surrounds his death. Much is made of the tragic trick of fate which saw Peter Lacy’s death at the moment of the 1962 Tate retrospective and Dyer’s on the eve of the Grand Palais opening, yet there is more than a simple juxtaposition here. Bacon and Lacy’s relationship suffered its most acute rupture when the latter found Bacon in bed with an Arab boy in Tangier: the same situation was repeated in inverted form when Bacon found Dyer with an Arab boy in their hotel in Paris. The echo could not have been lost on him.

We should remember here that Dyer’s death was in October 1971, yet Bacon’s mother had herself passed away in the April of that same year, the mother who had set a premium on the image of her son. ‘Promise me you’ll never grow old” she said to him (37). We can hear the echo of this imperative in Bacon’s frequent quoting of Cocteau: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work”. Just as Victoria’s public grieving for Albert obscured the question of her mourning for her recently deceased mother, so we should factor in this crucial death. Bacon’s earliest named portrait had been made, indeed, just after returning from his 1951 visit to her in South Africa. If he painted mostly images of Dyer and himself for a period in the 70s, this does not mean that he was preoccupied with Dyer, but may suggest that, as Dyer was a figure of his own ego, he was working on his own image via both himself and Dyer, compromised after the maternal death.

A similar sequence may explain why the head portraits escalate after Lacy’s death in 1962, to eventually make up just over 40% of the artist’s work up until 1980 (38). There are plenty of reasons to explain the power that Lacy exerted over Bacon: his looks, his oscillating temperement, his lack of interest in Bacon’s art. The fact that Bacon never knew what he was for Lacy may have both reinforced his passion for him and made the mourning process all the more difficult, resulting in the iterated portrait images that were to follow: ‘What am I for him?’ becoming ‘What am I?’. But if Lacy was the “love of his life”, this was a love that crystallised again at a highly specific time: just after the death of his beloved nanny Jesse Lightfoot, whose place in Bacon’s life cannot be underestimated.

Would it be fanciful, indeed, to see the spectacles and pinz nez that explode in Bacon’s art from the mid-50s onwards as not indexing those of Lightfoot? These are forms, after all, that not only adorn the eyes but inscribe themselves into the flesh itself. When Richardson comments that the features of Bacon’s figures “spin and squash into one another as if subjected to an excess of gravitational pull” (39), isn’t this a pull into the closed curve of the lens? These curves sculpt the paint in so many of the portraits, starting as glasses and then furrowing their curves into the flesh itself, as we see, for example, in the 1976 ‘Study for Portrait’.


The encircled eyes and facial vortexes that are so pronounced in the late 50s suggest how the curves have now gained an autonomy over the face itself. As well as molding facial features, they create discontinuities in its surface, as if parts of the face where being seen through a magnifying glass or, simply, optical lens. The much-discussed hypodermic syringe may have mattered for its stapling function, as Bacon said, but can’t we see in its handle this basic figure eight of the glasses? Even in Bacon’s final, unfinished work, don’t we see a body caught up in lines that demand the same sequence of closed curves, the same figure eight of the pinz-nez?


If there is a dimension, then, of mourning, or at least, of indexing loss, in Bacon’s art, we might be tempted to speculate on some childhood trauma, some event that Bacon was forever trying to capture in paint to both freeze and protect against. His ubiquitous remarks about the importance of chance and accident can of course be read in this way, together with his comments on trying to capture movement. “How can I recreate an accident?”, he would ask (40), while he emphasised that he aimed to “capture something which is constantly changing” (41).

If we add to this his MOMA statement that “A picture should be a recreation of an event rather than an illustration of a subject” and spice it with his reference in a note to “the bed of crime in centre of circular room”. (42), we’re almost there. Stir in the recurring curved rooms with their heavy drapes that he associated with his grandmother’s house at Famleigh, and we have all the ingredients we need: the young Bacon chanced upon two figures in motion on a bed, and spent the rest of his life trying to paint them. The 1968 Triptych would then become a kind of ‘Birth of Painting’, with its figures on a bed, its onlookers and its inclusion of paintings and two-dimensional images. But what does this really tell us? Is it in any way helpful in terms of an engagement with his art?

Bacon himself subscribed to a similar story, but in a rather different sense. He did indeed, he said, chance upon a bedroom scene, but rather than being traumatised, “it was the making of me” (43). Accident is here wedded to the idea of a position, a career, an orientation, a way of assuming what one has stumbled across. But Bacon’s art can tell us much more here, teaching us about traumautic encounters themselves. We can recall how Bacon forever eschewed the dimension of meaning or narrative in his works. As well as being an example of his style of negation, it shows a profound rejection of meaning as such, something that he always remained true to.

The fact that triptychs tended by their structure to introduce the spectre of meaning was troubling to Bacon, and he did his best to disabuse his interpreters. But if we follow him in suspending any concern with narrative or story, what do we have instead? We have certain purely formal features that repeat, visual signifiers that run from one picture to another but which refuse to tell a story. And isn’t this exactly the characteristic of the encounter with traumatic sexuality? That it evades meaning or narrative and leaves us repeating a handful of empty formal features which may have derived from the scene in question but which bear no further meaning in themselves.

The famous arrows, tassels, dark windows and light bulbs in Bacon’s art have this function of formal non-representational features that repeat without ever releasing a univocal meaning. Note how even the finials on the papal throne in the Pope paintings have the exact form of tassels, just awaiting their cord, as we can see, for example, in the 1953 Study V. In psychoanalysis, it is details like these that index trauma without telling us anything more: they are purely formal markers of an encounter. If, on the other hand, we then ask the question of where meaning did reside for Bacon, the answer is clear: not in his art but in his body, in the form of what has been called his ‘hypochondria’. The artist who told everyone not to look for hidden meaning in his work would then consult his physician repeatedly to search for a meaning hidden in the body. This, if anything, is Bacon’s knot, the way that meaning was situated for him.


Recognising these structural questions about the body and the failure of representation does not invalidate the more classical biographical approaches to Bacon’s work but nuances them, to alert us to what we could call a biography of the paint itself. Let’s take as an example the famous series of ‘screaming’ popes. Bacon often spoke of his “obsession” with the Velazquez portrait of Innocent X and he would paint more than 30 versions of it, yet when he had the chance to see it in Rome, he chose not to. He described being “hypnotised” and ”haunted” and “overcome” by it, and gave it the dignity of being “my first subject” (44).

Some commentators have argued that the Velazquez Pope bore an uncanny resemblance to Bacon’s father, and since the father was a man prone to shouting at people, Bacon’s Popes do likewise. The Screaming Popes, then, are all versions of the image of an angry father. When Sylvester suggested something of this sort to Bacon, by pointing out to him the link between the word ‘Pope’ and the word ‘Papa’, the painter replied that he didn’t really understand what Sylvester was saying (45). And if it has also been pointed out by a family member that Bacon’s father actually looked nothing like the Velazquez, why not take the painter’s response seriously. A link to the father there might be, but Bacon didn’t paint his Popes because of a purely visual similarity.

Bacon’s father was a military man who moved to Ireland to pursue an inglorious career as a racehorse trainer. The information available about him suggests that he ran his household with military discipline, was subject to bouts of rage and was foul tempered. The one moment, Bacon would say, he saw his father show any true emotion was at the death of his younger brother Edward in 1927 from respiratory failure or ‘asthma’, just around the time that Bacon himself was expelled from the family home, allegedly for being found by his father dressed up in his mother’s underwear.

Now, if we keep hearing about the importance of the father, and if Bacon would also speak of his attraction to this man, isn’t a vital clue going to be found in this image of the death of the brother, the one moment when the father shows his passion and his longing. As an inconsistency, a point when the father no longer behaves as he was prone to, this gives the moment a special power. Note also how Bacon refers to his pleasure when his father administered morphine to him during his own asthma attacks.

It is remarkable, indeed, how references to asthma just seem to appear out of nowhere after Bacon mentions his father, a juxtaposition that suggests a signifying link. The asthma here seems to matter not so much in terms of a bodily trauma in itself than as a point of attachment to the father, and Bacon’s brother, indeed, would die from this. It seems no accident then to find the myriad respiratory organs and apparatuses throughout Bacon’s work: we could think here of the strange organic bellows in the 1944 Crucifixion to the sides of meat in the form of ribcages in the 1946 Painting and its 1971 version. Bacon’s bodies are fundamentally respiratory bodies.

[image details]

If Bacon was interested in capturing this point of division in his father, it would follow that he would gravitate towards the image of the lost child. And it is exactly this motif that we find in the two images that, apart from the Velazquez, were to “haunt” Bacon more than any others. First of all, the scene of the screaming nurse from Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’, in which the baby in the pram falls away from her followed by the image of a man striking a blow with a sword. When Bacon travelled to Berlin after he left Ireland at seventeen in the wake of his brother’s death, it was not just the decadence and sexual commerce that left its mark on him, but the isolated image from this film.

And secondly, Poussin’s ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ in which a soldier strikes a child as he presses his foot into its neck, and the mother desperately tries to stop him. Bacon became mesmerised by this painting after he saw it at Chantilly directly after his stay in Berlin, and it contains what Bacon would call “probably the best human cry in painting”. The echo of ‘innocent’ from ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ to the Velazquez Pope Innocent can’t be mere accident. It isn’t just in the image itself that we need to look for clues to help understand the effect of the Velazquez portrait : there is a link to the Poussin in language, through the word ‘innocent’.

Bacon painted versions of the Potemkin image, and it has often been pointed out how the scream of the Screaming Popes is in fact the scream of the Potemkin nurse, a still of which Bacon kept on the wall of his studio. The figure with the first real scream, the 1952 ‘Study of a Head’, both wears the pinz-nez from Potemkin-Lightfoot and has a strangely feminine appearance. And just as the pinz-nez ramify in Bacon’s art, so do the wheels of the nurse’s pram: the tubular structures may of course derive from Bacon’s furniture designs and any number of sources, but it would be difficult to deny the ubiquity of pram imagery, from the 1945 ‘Figure in a Landscape, the 1946 ’Painting’ to Pope 1 and the 1971 remake of the ‘Painting’. We could also of course wonder why he had been originally drawn to that style of curved steel so soon after his Berlin and Paris adventure.

We can note here that both images, the Poussin and the Potemkin, involve exactly the same elements: a woman screaming, a doomed child and a military man striking a blow (46). And Poussin’s child is not simply doomed, he is very graphically gasping for breath, a detail which becomes all the more important when we remember that Edward Bacon was to die of a respiratory illness or, in the family mythology, of an asthma attack (47). It is also surely no accident that one memory from the Berlin trip that Bacon would repeat was grasping the swan’s neck that formed the corners of the breakfast trolley at the Hotel Adlon (48), a feature of not only the Poussin image but the 1944 Crucifixion. “The world is just a dung heap”, Bacon would say, “it’s made up of compost of the millions and millions who have die and are blowing about. The dead are blowing in your nostrils every hour, every second you breathe in’ (49).

Do we now have an answer to our question of why Bacon’s Popes are screaming? Is it for the same reason that the nurse in Potemkin is screaming, the lost child? It is indeed significant that the series of Screaming Popes stop screaming once Bacon has painted his nurse from Potemkin in 1957, suggesting that where the scream really belongs is with the nurse and not with the Pope. The scream, perhaps, has gone back to the right place: to index the death of a child and the agonised cry of the mother.

The obvious feature here is that both the Potemkin and the Poussin images depict a mother figure being separated violently from a child. We could note how Bacon would endlessly repeat the myth about his own orgins as an artist, his departure to Berlin and Paris after being thrown out by his father: once again, there is the idea of a child being violently separated from its family.

At the same time, however, there is no reason not to take Bacon seriously when he claims that the Popes aren’t necessarily screaming. Perhaps they are gasping for breath, implying a link with the breathing difficulties and what they signify in relation to the father. Very often he says that painting became central for him in 1945 and then he immediately refers to his asthma. And when he could say that asthma had been with him longer than painting, what does it mean for painting to be ‘with him’ (50)?

And indeed, the mouth in Bacon’s art is so often obscured, smudged, as if Bacon were trying to paint something beyond it, something which, as it emerges, disrupts the very organ through which it passes : the breath, as it is obstructed, contorted, expelled. If one were to follow this line of thought, the key painting would not be the Potemkin nurse, considered as the last in the Pope series, but rather the very curious 1957 portrait of the Arab man with child, uncannily similar to a Pope, which Bacon paints round about the time the Popes stop screaming, as it would suggest this motif of the bond of father and son.

So is the famous Bacon scream linked to the mother or to the father? The Potemkin image and the Poussin painting portray the scream as the acoustic cord linking mother and child, yet Bacon’s own history might suggest that gasping for breath is in fact the link between father and son. While both these observations have their interest, rather than deciding in favour of one or the other, why not see the cry itself as the central character in the drama of Bacon’s art. Instead of claiming ‘It’s the mum’ or ‘It’s the dad’, why not hypothesise ‘It’s the cry’. And then the key question becomes that of following the history of this cry in Bacon’s painting : the question of the narrative of the cry replaces that of the narrative of the family, and we have to ask, What happens to this cry once Bacon’s Popes have stopped screaming?


Bacon started painting screams around 1941 and in the Pope series, which began some years later, the scream will move from one picture to another, situated first of all in the mouths of the Popes and then, by 1957, in the mouth of the nurse from Potemkin. These intense variations on the same motif suggest that the problem for Bacon was in situating the scream, in giving it the right place in his images. Although it seems to be localised in the mouth, this becomes less and less clear, and in Pope III, it emerges from behind the figure of the seated Pope, as if the scream were ultimately something which was separated from the body, outside the body.

Indeed, all of Bacon’s Popes show the difficulty, the impossibility of lodging the scream in the body : it is something which overflows, disrupting the unity of the body – as if the human body and the scream couldn’t be in the same place at the same time without some terrible contorsion, without the body being wrenched apart by the cry. “When the Pope was screaming”, Bacon commented, “it wasn’t screaming”, the ‘it’ indexing this heterogeneity (51). One could call the Pope series, from this perspective ‘Screams in search of an author’ : the problem is in attributing them to a body, which is perhaps why the scream keeps moving from figure to figure.

Bacon famously said that he was trying paint the mouth here “like a Monet landscape” or “sunset”, a phrase that is usually taken to be disingenuous. But if we were to take him literally, we would have to ask how Monet painted his landscapes. Nigel Cooke observes here how the contorted flesh of the mouth in many of Bacon’s works can be understood in exactly this sense: like Monet, he was trying to create not proximity but distance (52). The blurring and smudging of the mouth may evoke the soft filtrations of atmospheric conditions that affect recognition at long-range. If the mouth was too close for Bacon, by painting it like Monet he would succeed in distancing it.

Now, after painting the screaming nurse from Potemkin at the end of the Pope series, Bacon said “I hope it is the last scream”, but although it does indeed seem that the Pope figures stop screaming, the scream continues its trajectory in Bacon’s art, but in a very different form. What happens when the Popes stop screaming? Bacon paints a series of Van Gogh portraits, radically different from his earlier work, replacing his usual monochrome backgrounds with a fiercely coloured brushwork which includes both the human figures and the landscape around them. Whereas in the Pope series, it was the figures themselves which were the focus of colour and brushwork, now it is the whole canvas, which becomes covered in a kind of frenetic, gluttinous impasto.

Why not see a link between the disappearance of the scream in the Pope series and the emergence of this new technique? If the Popes stop screaming, it isn’t because they’re any happier, but because the scream has now moved into the paintwork itself, its acoustic vibrations disrupting the surface of the canvas, as if the scream, impossible to capture by painting the mouth and the body, has been shifted to another regsiter, that of the very texture of the painting. As we saw earlier, the key problem for Bacon was this change in registers, the fact that (a), while being bodily, cannot cohabit with the body and its images.

If the uniform impasto of the Van Goghs ends, in its turn, the cry now takes on another form. Critics often see the smudged forms and opaque masses which seems to sprout from Bacon’s later figures as a sort of signature, the meaning of which remains mysterious : a surplus or remainder exceeding the body, going beyond the limits of the figure. This is indeed exactly the tension found in the Pope series, where the cry fails to fit the contour of the body. After the Van Goghs, the scream continues its search for representation, but now it has become a smudge, as we see in these substantial shadows, blurs and opaque masses which haunt Bacon’s figures as their strange doubles. All of these innovations form a series – from the screaming Popes to the violent brushwork of the Van Goghs to the gluttinous residues – a series which is showing us how the body is the container of something more than itself, something which, in a sense, has no home, a cry which is exiled from the body and which searches, in Bacon’s art, for a place.


If Bacon needed photographs and two-dimensional images as containers for this excess, he also needed something else, something which we find right from his earliest work in furniture design to the last of his paintings. Wherever we find the image of a human figure – whether it is in direct derivation from Picasso or in the style that Bacon made his own – we almost always find one simple formal feature: a bar or line or rail.

As we see it reappear in painting after painting, we realise that this is something that Bacon needed, quite literally, as a ballast to the decomposition to the body. We could understand this line not so much as a visual elelment, but as a feature that Bacon had to inscribe on canvas. Indeed, its visual aspect is perhaps of least importance when compared to the action of painting it, an action that we can guess was a necessity, as if this had to be produced time and time again with his body when Bacon faced the canvas.

These lines frame the body in some works, and in others they are juxtaposed or adjacent. Sometimes it is obvious that they are the lines of a bed and sometimes it is not aparent to what they belong or form part of. But crucially they are never the lines of the body, but lines that are are appealed to within the same space. We see them in the rugs and screens of the 30s, in the shuttering lines of the 1929 watercolour and early gouaches, and in the crosshatching present in the depiction of Bacon’s studio paintings by De Maistre in 1932.


Even when he adapted Giacomo Balla’s dog in the 1953 ‘Man with Dog’, he needed to add the grid of the drain cover, introducing lines not simply to offset the creature itself but as his own support. The so-called ‘spaceframes’ or ‘cages’ or ‘boxes’ that have been discussed so often are an avatar of this basic linear compass. In his first avowed self-portrait in 1956, the straight lines are there, as ballast to the figure and the action of painting, as if this was the gesture that Bacon had to make.

The key here is not in the meaning of the line but in its tension with the bodily figure, with the flesh. When we look at the 1953 ‘Two Figures’, the linear structure that cuts through them seems to make so little sense until we realise that Bacon needed it, not to isolate his figures but to protect himself, as a physical incarnation of a quasi-symbolic support. Even when Bacon planned his series of sculptures in the 60s, he needed to have polished steel tubes present as a framework for his figures (53). And when he painted the 1974 ‘Sleeping Figure’ after a gallbaldder operation, he noted that the bold lines of the glass door came as an “after thought” yet perhaps these lines had to be there to preseve the contour of his body (54). The bars that Bacon painted here and in so many other works echo with ‘bars’ as drinking spots, an association that is not arbitrary. Asked about linear structure in his work, he replied “people go to bars to be close to each other. The frustration is that people can never be close enough to each other. If you’re in love you can’t break down the barriers of the skin”.

The apparent tangent is in fact connected to the question about line, and the whole problem of overproximity that Bacon both sought and avoided. Martin Harrison makes the perceptive point that the fishnet stockings that Bacon would wear beneath his trousers involved the same linear structure that we find in his art, from his interest in gossamer-like barriers to his use of shuttering (55). Lines had to be inscribed on the body, exactly as in his paintings of the human figure, this linear, artificial dimension had to be made present as a counterpoint to the excessive and problematic substantiality of flesh.

This raises the question of where Bacon was able to dispense with the line. It is least present in the small portraits, as if the capture in the mirror that these images embodied rendered it less vital for him. The face was enough within its minimal framework for Bacon not to have to create this line, like a mirror image, that ”certain scale and frame” that we evoked earlier.


Let’s turn now to the question of Bacon’s sexuality. Surprisingly little has been written about this, despite its obvious importance in terms of his artistic practice. In a very general sense, we can say that he oscillated between two positions in his love life: either to be a boy for a sadistic older man, or to be a mother – or grandmother – to a child. Concurrent with this, he required a benevolent female figure to oversee his daily life: his nanny Jesse Lightfoot, then to a certain extent his dealer Erica Brausen and the Colony’s Muriel Belcher and then, more consistently Valerie Beston at the Marlborough.

In Caroline Blackwood’s account, apparently often authenticated by Bacon, when he was caught wearing his mother’s underwear, his father had him thrashed in the stables (56). This was also the place where, he would say, he had learnt about sex from the stableboys. We have here perhaps the matrix of Bacon’s oft-quoted “gilded gutter life”, a life lived between the Ritz and the gutter. In the division betwen the great house where he lived and the stables, don’t we find the elementary cell of this oscillation, as, in later life, Bacon would move between high society and the company of rent boys and thieves?

When Bacon described the encounter with his angry father, his enjoyment in relating the vignette is quite palpable. He says that he took pleasure in the punishment, and as he evokes his father throwing him out, although we might question the veracity of the narrative, Bacon’s version surely contains a truth, his delight in the idea of being thrown out by his father. It’s less the ‘facts’ that matter here than the enjoyment in relating them. This motif would later take many forms: as he said to John Gruen, “Actually I’m the most ordinary person possible. It’s just that I like throwing myself into the gutter”(57). Being thrown out, he concluded, “is a necessity”.

This can be situated in the context of Bacon’s day. Rising early and painting next to a mirror, applying make-up, going out from bar to bar and then often ending the night with a beating in Earls Court. Although so much ink has been expended on ‘Bacon’s Soho’, it seems that he very rarely chose sexual partners there, but would gravitate to Earl’s Court late at night where he was less well-known and could find a proper beating more easily. ‘Bacon’s Earl’s Court’ would make a fascinating chapter to add to the existing literature. In Soho, it seems, there was less chance of securing a beating that really did its job. But what was this job? What function might beating have had for the painter?

On an immediate level, we can think of Potemkin and Poussin, where the soldier raises their sword ready to strike. Bacon here would be in the position of the maternal figure being struck. But the real clue here is found in the South Bank Show interview that Bacon gave in 1985. What does he aim at in his painting, Melvyn Bragg asks him. If you paint a wall, Bacon replies, you can never see the original brushstroke, and his project in painting is to access that original first stroke, the moment when the “first mark” is made, the point of “vitality” invisible in the fully painted wall. As Bacon says this, he raises his arm and lashes his hand outward with evident enjoyment, as if the original gesture in painting were also the gesture of the lash that his own body would receive at night.

We can remember here that Bacon would refer again and again, decade after decade, to his propensity to “drift”. “I drift from bar to bar, from gambling place to gambling place…and when I don’t do those things I go home and paint some pictures” (58). Even his writing was characterised by a remarkable absence of punctuation. Yet Bacon’s was not a life of pure drift, yet one which was stapled down at different points, framed perhaps by the morning of painting and then the later beating that would close his night. These two moments when the ”first mark” was enacted could act as limit points to the potentially limitless drifting that Bacon spoke of. In between was the potentially endless regime of the drive: for Bacon, the oral drive, where his existence was reduced to a mouth drinking, eating and talking, rather like the isolated autonomous mouths of his early work and of the 1944 Crucifixion. When Patrick White remembered that Bacon was obsessively painting false teeth in the late 1930s, it is perhaps precisely this dimension of the separated, insatiable mouth that he touches on (59).

Bacon invented ways to follow this oral drift and then to punctuate it, aiming in both moments of painting and sex to create the “first mark”, the instant when a brush or a belt strikes canvas or flesh, breaking the drift of the drive. In this sense, Bacon’s trajectory can be seen as an effort to limit the mouth, this point of “maximal recession” in so many of his paintings.

Hence we could interpret the famous spurts of paint that Bacon would aim at his canvas as less ejaculatory than in this sense of a first mark. Martin Harrison has discussed these ‘ejaculatory gestures’, which emerge first perhaps in the centre panel of the1962 Crucifixion and continue to feature in many paintings, from the Rawsthrone portrait of 1967 to the 1990 Male Nude, pointing out that they may both echo fissures in Bacon’s source photographs but also fucntion as self-reflexive devices (60).

Recognising the effort to capture this first mark illuminates not only the physicality of this part of Bacon’s practice but also many of his comments on the role of chance and accident. If we take seriously the factually incorrect but nonetheless truth-bearing assertion that he had begun with his 1944 Crucifixion, we can remember that a crucifixion is of course a term applied to a scene in which bodily harm is inflicted on one person while others watch (61). Perhaps this formalises both an aspect of Bacon’s life and his art.


Let’s conclude with one further thread that links life and art, one which likewise originates in Bacon’s own mythologising of his origins and takes us back to the question of influence and indebtedness. Bacon would situate his decision to become an artist with his 1927 visit to the Picasso exhibiton at the Rosenberg Gallery in Paris. While it is well-known that he visited the city after his trip to Berlin, he also says at one point that he had already run away from home to Paris prior to this latter visit. Whether true or false, it situates Paris as a key signifier, together with the encounter with Picasso’s work.

Now, Sylvester in the 1980s observed how Bacon must be just about the only living artist to still see Paris as the epicentre of the art world, and his gravitation to that city has puzzled many. Bacon’s beloved maternal grandmother had initiated him into the world of lavish parties and extravagance, and in his teens he encountered Yvonne Bocquentin in Paris, who supported him and taught him French. When Daniel Farson incorrectly reports that Bacon’s grandmother was half-French, we might hear in this error an echo of a misinformation supplied by the artist himself. There must have been something powerful that drew him time and time again to that city. Bacon’s enjoyment in speaking the French language is also obvious, as we can see from his filmed interviews. Added to this was his pull towards the pub known as ‘The French’ in Soho and his many French friends, suggesting that Paris and the French language meant something profound to him. I would guess that the key here is his link to his ‘incredible grandmother’, the one figure he mentions when evoking his status as a ‘loner’ as a child (62).

Bacon would later say, at a 1963 Mogdiliani press view that Paris is “one of the few places where I can love” (63). We should note here that Bacon’s Paris trip took place in the space between two acute losses. His brother Edward died just a couple of months before his departure, and his grandmother would die in the September of the following year, when Bacon himself was living in Paris. Only a year after that his elder brother Harley would die of tetanus in Rhodesia, aged just 24.

Now, when we turn to Picasso, art historians have been confused by the apparent mismatch between what Bacon was supposed to have seen at the Rosenberg Gallery and what was actually on display. And yet in one sense this is less important than how Bacon mythologised, and we see this reflected in the very first plate selected for the ‘Brutality of Fact’ interviews: Picasso’s Charcoal Drawing of 1927 (64). What do we see here beyond the biomorphic figure that Bacon would no doubt elaborate in his own work? The figure’s leg or arm or limb trails a cape, just as in the Poussin picture that Bacon saw at Chantilly on that same Paris trip, where, once again, the figure wears a red cape.

Don’t we find a strange continuity here with the later Pope series, where the cape is painted again and again. In his heated exchange with Royal College of Art students, Bacon would indeed say that he only painted the Popes because he liked the colour purple, the colour, in fact, of the papal cape or mozetta. Later, he would tell a German TV interviewer that he was just drawn to the “red” colour of the Velazquez cape. Rather than seeing this as disingenuous, why not find a clue here to his fascination with this painting.

[ Images Picasso 1927, Poussin detail, Velazquez ]

We can remember that although Bacon’s donning of his mother’s underwear is the most often quoted instance of his dressing up, there is an earlier scene. In what Bacon said was his earliest childhood memory, he recounts as a five year old “walking up and down a pathway lined with cypreses at my Irish home, dressed in a bicycling cape which I used to borrow from my brother” (65). This would presumably have been not long after his brother Edward was born, two months before his fifth birthday.

Rather than seeing his Royal College remarks as “impulsive, sometimes absurd explanations”, as John Minton did, we can see a truth there. If he painted the popes because “he wanted to see purple paint”, well, maybe (66). We have no need to ascribe a meaning to these capes, just note the chain from the childhood memory to the Poussin to Picasso to the Velazquez and beyond. Like the tassels or blind cords in his paintings, they may function to circumscribe something that cannot take propositional form, and that remains purely formal, resistant to further elaboration.

Bacon’s art here reflects changes in psychoanalysis itself. If the Freudian approaches to art of the 40s and 50s privileged meaning and narrative, the newer perspectives of Jacques Lacan focused on the points where meaning ends, the irreducible and isolated elements in a human life that could not be turned into a story and that seemed to have no connection to other representational elements. Bacon’s art remained true to this, with its valorising of single traits, disconnected from narrrative, and his avowed intent to paint “from a sense of the impossible”. As Bacon said about any attempted biography, “To write about my life would only amount to a bit of gossip. Just a bit of gossip” (67). Like the formal elements in his painting, these ‘bits’ have a strange endurance.


(1) David Sylvester, ‘The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon’, 3rd ed, London, Thames and Hudson, 1987.

(2) Francis Bacon, ‘In Conversation with Michel Archimbaud’, London, Phaidon, 1993, p.127.

(3) ‘Entretien avec Francis Bacon’, Chroniques de l’Art Vivant, 72, December 1971-January 1972, pp.4-8.

(4) TGA 863.

(5) Jon Lys Turner, ‘The Visitor’s Book’, London, Constable, 2016, p.334.

(6) See TGA8726, 19/9/61 and 29/11/61. John MacDermot pointed out the echo of De Maistre’s image and Bacon’s, interview 24/2/17.

(7) Rebecca Daniels, ‘Francis Bacon and gambling: the inside bet’, in Martin Harrison ed, ‘Francis Bacon, France and Monaco’, Paris, Albin Michel, 2016, pp.78-91.

(8) David Sylvester, ‘Memoirs of a Mug’, TGA 200816/5/8/24.

(9) See Bacon’s correspondence with the Hanover, TGA 863, and Adrian Clark, ‘Francis Bacon’s Correspondence with Sir Colin Anderson’, British Art Journal, 8, 2007, pp.39-43.

(10) Pierre Koralnik, ‘Francis Bacon’, Radio Televsion Suisse interview, 2/7/64 , and Ronald Alley and John Rothenstein,’Francis Bacon’, London, Thames and Hudson, 1964, p, p.11.

(11) Martin Harrison, ‘Francis Bacon: Painter’, in Harrison ed, ‘Francis Bacon, Catalogue Raisonne’, London, The Estate of Francis Bacon, 2016, p.45.

(12) TGA 8414, J. Kirkman to Alley 12/9/63

(13) Martin Harrison, ‘In Camera, Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practoice of Painting’, London, Thames and Hudson, 2005.

(14) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.116.

(15) Jacques Lacan, ‘The Mirror Stage as formative of the I function as revealed in psychoanalytic experience’, (1949), in ‘Ecrits’, New York, Norton, 2006, pp.75-81.

(16) Jasia Reichardt, ‘Developments in Style’, The London Magazine, June 1962, pp.38-44.

(17) Daniel Farson, ‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’, London, Century, 1993, p.17 and Hugh Davies, ‘Interviewing Bacon, 1973’, in Martin Harrison ed, ’Francis Bacon, New Studies’, Gottingen, Steidl, 2009, pp.89-124.

(18) John Russell, ‘Francis Bacon’, London, Thames and Hudson, 1971, p.90.

(19) ‘Interviewing Bacon, 1973’, op.cit. p.105.

(20) Ibid. p.111.

(21) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.175.

(22) Jacques Lacan, ‘Anxiety’ (1962-3), Oxford, Polity Press, 2014.

(23) Hugh Davies, ‘Interview with Francis Bacon’, in ‘Francis Bacon, the Papal Portraits of 1953’, San Diego, Museum of Contempoary Art, 200, p.64

(24) Russell, ‘Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.112.

(25) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. pp.109-10.

(26) Melville ‘The Iconoclasm of Francis Bacon’, World Review, 23, 1951, pp.63-4, and Sylvester, ‘Looking Back at Bacon’, London, Thames and Hudson, 2000, p.22.

(27) ‘Looking Back at Bacon’, op.cit, p.134.

(28) Martin Harrison, ‘In Camera’, op.cit, p.92.

(29) John Richardson, ‘Bacon Agonistes’, New York Review of Books, December 17, 2009.

(30) Personal communication, 16/1/17.

(31) ‘Francis Bacon: Painter’, op.cit, p.36.

(32) Koralnik ‘Francs Bacon’, op.cit.

(33) ‘Looking Back at Bacon’, op.cit, p.232.

(34) ‘Interviewing Bacon, 1973’, op.cit. p.111.

(35) See Darian Leader, ‘The New Black’, London, Hamish Hamilton, 2008.

(36) Interview, 7/3/17

(37) ‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.246.

(38) ‘Francis Bacon: Painter’, op.cit, op.cit, p.22.

(39) Richardson, ‘Tragedian’, New York Review of Books, 25 March 1965, pp.6-7.

(40) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.18

(41) ‘In Conversation with Michel Archimbaud’, op.cit. p.147.

(42) Mathew Gale, ‘Francs Bacon: working on paper’, in ‘Francis Bacon: Working on Paper’, London, Tate Gallery,1999, p.19.

(43) Harrison, ’In Camera’, op.cit, p.113.

(44) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.71.


(46) Pointed out in my BBC documentary, ‘In the Name of the Father’, May, 1996. I was disappointed to see that Michael Peppiat, who I interviewed for the programme, repeats these points without acknowledgment in ‘Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma’, 2nd ed, London, Constable, 2008, p.205.

(47) Interview with Pamela Mathews, December 1995.

(48)’The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.186.

(49) Joshua Gilder, ‘I think about death every day’, Flash Art, May, 1983, pp.17-21.

(50) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.68 and Harrison ‘In Camera’, op.cit, p.208.

(51) Francis Bacon, ‘Remarks from an interview with Peter Beard’, in ‘Francis Bacon, Recent Paintings 1968-74’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975, p.14.

(52) Nigel Cooke, personal communication, 16/1/17.

(53) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. pp.110-12. See also ‘Russell, ‘Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.101.

(54) ‘In Camera’, op.cit, p.122.

(55) Ibid, p.216 and p.199.

(56) Caroline Blackwood, ‘Francis Bacon (1909-1992), New York Review of Books, 24 September,1992, pp.34-5.

(57) John Gruen, ’The Artist Observed’, Chicago, Cappella Books, 1991, pp.1-11

(58) Ibid. p. 11.

(59) ‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.32.

(60) Harrison, ‘Painting Smudging’, in ‘Martin Harrison ed, ‘Francis Bacon, New Studies’, op.cit, pp.143-168.

(61) John Russell, ‘Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.113.

(62) ‘Interviewing Bacon, 1973’, op.cit, p.116.

(63) 27/9/63

(64) ‘The Brutality of Fact’, op. cit. p.8.

(65) ‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’, op.cit, p.15.

(66) TGA 918, John Minton, ‘Francis Bacon at the RCA, 1951-2’.

(67) Gruen, ‘The Artist Observed’, op.cit, p.11. In this context, it is worth noting how Bacon’s beloved ‘Aeschylus in his style’ by Bedell Stanford, (Dublin, 1942) consists in a series of ‘bits’, miniscule fragments of translation in a work otherwise totally inaccessible to someone who does not read Ancient Greek.


I would like to thank Martin Harrison for repeatedly answering my queries and for his support in the drafting of this chapter. Thanks also to Mike Witcombe, who gave me invaluable help in accessing documents, the staff at the archives room at Tate Britain, and Nigel Cooke, who, as usual, taught me a lot.