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In trying to do a portrait, my ideal would really be just to pick up a handful of paint and throw it at the canvas and hope that the portrait was there.

- Francis Bacon

Bacon moved into a studio in Reece Mews, South Kensington in 1961 and he lived and worked there until the end of his life. The studio was also home to his vast and chaotic accumulation of source material for his paintings, now preserved in its entirety in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.

In 1963 Bacon met George Dyer, his lover for the rest of the decade. He began making portraits of Dyer and his friends from the Soho scene: Isabel Rawsthorne, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes and the artist Lucian Freud. Many of these portraits were based on photographs Bacon commissioned from John Deakin.

In this period – and perhaps in line with the lively atmosphere of London in the sixties – Bacon’s compositions became more daring. He began to use areas of flat, high-key colour to frame and isolate his figures, and painted portraits on a smaller scale. These portraits are among his most adventurous works, conveying a distinct likeness with thick twists of paint which seem to consist of only a few wild strokes and turns of the brush.

Focus work

Francis Bacon
From Muybridge
‘The human figure in motion: woman emptying a bowl of water/paralytic child walking on all fours’ 1965
oil on canvas, 198 × 147.5 cm
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

This painting, which brings together a woman with a bowl of water and a paralytic child on all fours, acknowledges the groundbreaking photographs of Eadweard Muybridge in its title. When Bacon considered turning his hand to sculpture, this was one of the works that he thought could form the basis for a three-dimensional object. He proposed constructing the railing in the image and setting both of the figures on tracks so that they could be moved along it.

The image reflects the motion that Muybridge studied in his photographs. Here the woman’s body seems to capture not one moment in the movement but the entire gesture.

Issues for consideration

  • Look at a black-and-white version of this image then discuss how colour plays a significant role in the meaning of the work.
  • Research Muybridge’s work and the reasons it was considered revolutionary. Analyse this artwork by Bacon and specify how it captures particular elements of Muybridge’s photographs. Why do you think Bacon was drawn to Muybridge’s imagery?
  • Do you think the sculpture Bacon proposed to create from this artwork would have been successful? As a class, create a sculpture based on this artwork. Choose a site in the school to display your work.