Francis Bacon

Fragment of a Crucifixion

Bacon Fragment Of A Crucifixion Van Abbe Museum 1500 - © © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016. Photo: Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
  • Francis Bacon
  • Fragment of a Crucifixion
  • 1950
  • Oil, cotton wool on canvas
  • 158.4 x 127.4 x 9 cm
  • Collection Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven - © © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016. Photo: Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Beyond the blood-red color, the paint-scraped canvas, and the distorted bodies, it is the screaming mouth at the center of Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950) that affirms its absolute horror. Inspired by medical textbooks and the image of a screaming blood-covered nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s film The Battleship Potemkin (1925), the scream motif recurs often in Francis Bacon’s work. As philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) once remarked, from Bacon’s screams “the entire body escapes through the mouth.” Bacon favored the tangled geometry that distorts perspective from foreground to background. Here, the screaming figure seems suspended over a white geometric cage that projects into the viewer’s space. Another body recedes into the dark, truncated cross shape behind it, and a third mass of bloodied flesh hangs from the crossbar.

Bacon painted many distorted and near-blasphemous representations of the crucifixion, beginning with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). His religious icons, emerging from a manifestly atheist standpoint, refuse the possibility of hope or redemption. The abject hopelessness of Bacon’s crucifixion imagery is especially significant because it is impossible to detach it from the wartime horrors of the previous decades: The screaming figure, together with the ambiguous array of stick-figures and cars along the horizon, pull the work away from a straightforward recapitulation of ancient religious iconography and into postwar modernity.

Gemma Sharpe

Biography of Francis Bacon

  • Born 1909 in Dublin, Ireland
  • Died 1992 in Madrid, Spain
Francis Bacon, a self-taught artist, became a leading figurative painter of the postwar era. In 1927 he visited Berlin and Paris, where he was inspired by the work of Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). He created his first artworks that year, attending the free European Academies in Paris. Late in 1928 or early in 1929 Bacon settled in London and started a short career as an interior decorator and furniture designer. Nearly a decade later he was included in the 1937 exhibition Young British Painters at Thomas Agnew & Sons, along with artists such as Graham Sutherland (1903–1980). His breakthrough came in 1944 with the triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, widely considered his first mature work. Bacon would go on to paint distorted human figures and scenes that evoke alienation, violence and suffering. Throughout his career Bacon worked in sequences and created variations on motifs. He drew on both Christian and mythological themes and found inspiration in the works of other artists, such as Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) and photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904). His first major retrospective was held at Tate Gallery, London, in 1962

More artworks by Francis Bacon in the exhibition

Bacon Personnage Brooklyn Museum 1500 - © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Francis Bacon
Pope, 1955-1956
Gift of Olga H. Knoepke, 81.306