Francis Bacon: Three Studies For A Crucifixion

The Centre Pompidou in Paris is dedicated an exhibition to Francis Bacon after the one done by the Grand Palais in 1971 – let’s have a look back at an important figurative painting.

An Inspired Painter 

1944 was the most devastating year of the Second World War. That is the very year that Francis Bacon would paint a frightening triptych populated with anthropomorphised creatures twisting with anxiety. The artist had destroyed most of the pieces made before 1945 – this triptych is then an exceptional work. A work that sets the base for the iconic paintings of an artist that is out of the ordinary. 

Titled “Three Studies At The Base Of A Crucifixion” (1944) sketches the masterpieces to come..For Bacon was first and foremost a chronicler of the ruthless human condition. What do we see on this triptych? Monstrous figures, quasi-human bodies that seem closer to being meat carcasses. Why so? As Francis Bacon says, “we are all meat, we are all potential carcasses.” 

Crucifixion, A Human Subject 

To Bacon, the religious motif is an inexhaustible metaphor: in 1962, he completed his piece and “Three Studies For A Crucifixion” became a triptych in perfect echo with the preferred format of great religious works. To him, crucifixion is “a magnificent frame on which you can hang all types of sensations”.

The three panels are independent – the scenes do not follow a story, they are only bound by their colours. An intense orange-red, simple and uniform. This work, Francis Bacon would produce a second version in 1988 – kept at the Tate Modern. 

An Unmissable Painting

“What I enjoy doing the most are the triptychs and I think its may have something to do with wanting to shoot film – a desire I have sometimes fondled. The juxtaposition of the images divided on three different canvases interests me. If i consider my work to be of great quality, O generally have the idea that it is perhaps the triptychs which have the most importance” he said in 1979.

This work in three paintings reproduces, on the right, the composition of traditional scenes of Christian art. On the left, two men are faced with a body that shows everything. At the centre there is everything which links the artist: a bed, where a body lies as if convulsed by pain. 

Spread out over 198.1 x 144.8 cm, this iconic work would make Gilles Deleuze say that this is not about hysteria of the painter but rather a hysteria of painting. “Painting is hysterical, or converts hysteria, because it shows presence directly. By the colours, the lines it invests the eye. “But the eye does not treat it like a direct organs” he added, “By freeing the lines and colours of representation, it also frees the eye from belonging to the organism…That is Bacon, his outstanding feature”.