Francis Bacon - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, September 21, 2023 | Phillips
  • “What I want to do is to distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.”
    —Francis Bacon

    A striking example from Francis Bacon’s oeuvre, Trois études de dos d'homme (after, Three Studies of the Male Back 1970) (1987) is a lithographic reproduction of the 1970 oil-on-canvas triptych of the same title that depicts the nude portrait of the artist’s lover and muse, George Dyer. Placed within a cage-like structure and facing away from the viewer, Dyer is portrayed as a solitary figure, seated cross-legged on a swivel stool and staring into a mirror. His meditative posture is juxtaposed by the rough smears that distort his flesh and present his body as if in a state of dissolution. Not only is Dyer’s figure distorted, but the room confining him is constructed through skewed and exaggerated lines of perspective, which elicit a nightmarish environment of unease. In an acutely introspective manner, the ephemeral, cage-like construction in which the figure is contained acts to heighten the sense of isolation, inciting the claustrophobic intensity of an individual alone with their thoughts.


    Eadweard Muybridge, Pugilist Striking a Blow, from the book Animal Locomotion, ca. 1887. Image: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Paul and Laurette Laessle, 1981.82.12

    The sheer power conveyed by the formal qualities of the triptych leave a haunting yet engrossing impression on the viewer, paying tribute to Bacon and Dyer’s passionate and tumultuous relationship. As with all his portraits, in Trois études de dos d'homme Bacon creates an animated elegance and orchestrated chaos with the work’s dynamic painterly appearance. By adopting a semi-automatic mode of painting that rendered the sitter highly abstracted, Bacon conveyed his need to delve deep into the subject’s consciousness and psychological state. Of all the many sources from which Bacon gathered inspiration, the photography of Eadweard Muybridge maintains the most pervasive presence in his work. In 1949, artist Denis Wirth-Miller introduced Bacon to the extensive and complete eleven-volume set of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (1887), featuring 781 gravure plates. As we gaze upon Dyer in Trois études de dos d'homme and absorb his face and body made-up of multiple profiles, his legs and back impossibly twisted, we see how powerfully Muybridge’s studies of the human figure influenced Bacon.

    “I very often think of people’s bodies that have particularly affected me, but then they’re grafted very often on to Muybridge’s bodies. I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the forms of the bodies I have known.”
    —Francis Bacon

    • Provenance

      Artcurial Paris, Vente Limited Edition, 29 May 2018, lot 32
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Bruno Sabatier 21
      Alexandre Tacou 21

    • Artist Biography

      Francis Bacon

      Irish-British • 1909 - 1992

      Francis Bacon was a larger-than-life figure during his lifetime and remains one now more than ever. Famous for keeping a messy studio, and even more so for his controversial, celebrated depictions of papal subjects and bullfights, often told in triptychs, Bacon signified the blinding dawn of the Modern era. His signature blurred portraits weren't murky enough to stave off his reputation as highly contentious—his paintings were provocations against social order in the people's eye. But, Bacon often said, "You can't be more horrific than life itself."
      In conversation with yet challenging the conventions of Modern art, Bacon was known for his triptychs brutalizing formalist truths, particularly Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which Bacon debuted in London in 1944, and Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which became famous when it set the record for most expensive work of art at auction at the time it sold in 2013.

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Trois études de dos d'homme (after, Three Studies of the Male Back 1970) (S. 21, T. 21)

The complete set of three lithographs in colours, on Arches paper, with full margins.
all I. 60.6 x 44.9 cm (23 7/8 x 17 5/8 in.)
all S. 81 x 59.2 cm (31 7/8 x 23 1/4 in.)

Signed and numbered 34/99 in pencil (there were also some artist's proofs), published by Michael Peppiatt for the review Art International, Paris, all framed.

Full Cataloguing

£15,000 - 20,000 ‡♠

Sold for £19,050

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 21 - 22 September 2023