Figure Study II (Oil on canvas, 145 cm x 129 cm, Huddersfield Art Gallery, Huddersfield) is unmistakably the work of Francis Bacon.
An Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, emotionally charged and raw imagery, Bacon’s artwork espoused an existential dread that buffeted his reputation back and forth between equal parts revile and acclaim during his lifetime. Created not long after his breakthrough work, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, this piece established a pattern of output for Bacon, whose work continued to be focused on a single subject or format for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats.
Here, recent graduate Gabrielle Amoils (C’15, English), shares her impressions of the work:
“A struggle for breath emanates through Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II (1946). The artist confronts us with a distorted, fragmentary figure within a formally rigorous composition to produce an uncanny moment of physical agony. His figure—bare, vulnerable, and struck—is bent over into a plant, the head partly concealed under a black umbrella. Only an open mouth is depicted, one that seems to struggle for air. An overcoat—which Bacon created by pressing a textured material filled with paint onto the canvas—covers the lower body. Its heavy, wool-like texture seems to suffocate the squirming body.
Bacon’s lifelong asthma offers a possible lens through which we can view his crouching, animal-like figure that is penned in, overwhelmed by the heaviness of clothes and the brightness of the room in which he is enclosed. Here he inflicts his own trauma with his lifelong struggle with asthma to offer us not only a violent portrayal of the human condition, but also an intimate look into the artist’s own past. ‘If I hadn’t been asthmatic,’ remarked Bacon, ‘I might never have gone on painting at all.’”