Repetition in Francis Bacon's paintings

After seeing the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition at the Royal Academy I’ve been thinking about the way that Bacon repeated himself frequently in his paintings. To take an obvious example, Bacon recreated his famous 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1988. But even in the 1940’s he had created another version of the left panel as Study for a Figure and another version of the right panel as Fury. And the mouth in Fury, painted from a reference photo, also turns up in Head I, Head II, Figure with Monkey and Chimpanzee.

With all this repetition, there isn’t a definitive version of many of his paintings. He painted over 50 images of popes during his lifetime, drawing from Velasquez’s Portrait of Innocent X. While the pope paintings that remain – Bacon destroyed many of his works – are celebrated to greater or lesser degrees, there isn’t a final version of the image that he was working towards. Just a series of variations on a theme.

When I’m working on music or writing, I feel the need to do something different than what I’ve done previously. If I’ve created an interesting sound or melody, I don’t feel like I can legitimately re-use it in another piece. I don’t feel like I can restate the same idea multiple times in writing. Nor do I feel like I can deliberately copy something that someone else has done. Realising that Bacon copied other artists and himself constantly is freeing.