About This Artwork

Francis Bacon
English, born Ireland, 1909–1992

Figure with Meat, 1954

Oil on canvas
129.9 x 121.9 cm (51 1/8 x 48 in.), without frame
No known inscriptions

Harriott A. Fox Fund, 1956.1201

© 2016 Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / ARS, New York / DACS, London

Figure with Meat belongs to a large series of works that Francis Bacon based on reproductions of Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650; Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome). In this version, Bacon depicted the Pope flanked by sides of beef, a motif drawn from his childhood fascination with butcher shops, as well as the haunting images of raw meat made by Rembrandt and Chaim Soutine. Influenced by postwar Existentialist thought, Bacon intended his paintings to remind viewers that the human condition is fragile—that, as he explained, “we are potential carcasses.” To heighten the sense of isolation he explored in his work, Bacon preferred to glaze his paintings with glass, which he believed would function as a barrier between the picture and the viewer and further the sense of distance and remoteness in his work.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, “Francis Bacon,” January 19–February 19, 1955, organized by Peter Watson, exh. pamphlet, cat. 13, as “Study After Velázquez.”

Arts Club of Chicago, “Surrealism Then and Now,” October 1–30, 1958, cat. 1 (ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

London, Tate Gallery, “Francis Bacon,” May 24–July 1, 1962, cat. 42, as “Study After Velázquez.”

New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Francis Bacon,” October 18, 1963–January 12, 1964, curated by Lawrence Alloway; traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, January 24–February 23, 1964, cat. 27 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez).”

Montreal, Expo 67, “Man and His World, International Fine Arts Exhibition,” April 28–October 27, 1967, organized by the National Gallery of Canada, cat. 123 (ill.), as “Figure with Meat (Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef).”

Des Moines Art Center, “Art in Western Europe: The Postwar Years, 1945–1955,” September 19–October 29, 1978, cat. 4 (ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez).”

London, Tate Gallery, “Francis Bacon,” May 22–August 18, 1985; traveled to Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, October 19, 1985–January 5, 1986, and Nationalgalerie Berlin, February 7–March 31, 1986 (London only), cat. 25 (color ill.).

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, “Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art,” October 15, 2003–January 18, 2004; traveled to Basel, Fondation Beyeler, February 8–June 27, 2004 (Basel only), pp. 67, 311, cat. 136 (color ill.).

Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, “Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real,” September 16, 2006–January 7, 2007, pp. 42, 77 (color ill.), cat. 13 (color ill.).

Norwich, England, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, “Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s," September 26–December 10, 2006; traveled to Milwaukee Art Museum, January 29–April 15, 2007, and Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, May 5–July 30, 2007 (Milwaukee and Buffalo only).

Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, "Francis Bacon: Five Decades," November 17, 2012–February 24, 2013.

Publication History

“Exhibitions,” “Architectural Review” 117, 700 (April 1955), pp. 270–71 (ill.).

“Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago” (Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), p. 17, as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

John Rothenstein, “British Art Since 1900: An Anthology” (Phaidon, 1962), pl. 133 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

Jane Harrison, “Dissent on Francis Bacon,” “Arts” 38, 3 (December 1963), p. 23 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez).”

Ronald Alley, “Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné” (Thames and Hudson, 1964), cat. 90 (ill.).

John Russell, "Francis Bacon," "Aujourd'hui" 9, 50 (July 1965), p. 65 (color ill.), as "Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez).

“Instituto de Arte de Chicago,” El mundo de los museos (Madrid: Editorial Codex, 1967), pp. 16 (ill.), 81 (color ill.).

H. H. Arnason, “History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture” (Harry N. Abrams, 1968), p. 532, pl. 223 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez)”; 2nd ed. (1977), p. 559, pl. 229 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez)”; 3rd ed. (1986), p. 435, pl. 208 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez).”

Michael Greenwood, “Mark Prent,” “Artscanada” 29, 2 (Spring 1972), p. 40 (ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

David W. Boxer, “The Early Work of Francis Bacon” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1975), pp. 81, 117, fig. 60 (ill.).

Lorenza Trucchi, “Francis Bacon,” trans. John Shepley (Harry N. Abrams, 1975), p. 14, as “Figure with Meat, 1960,”cat. 41 (ill.).

Hugh M. Davies, “Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928–1958,” Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts (Garland Publishing, 1978), p. 116.

Wieland Schmied, “Francis Bacon: Vier Studien zu einem Porträt” (Berlin: Frölich und Kaufmann, 1985), p. 65, pl. 143 (ill.), fig. 96 (ill.); rev. and trans. ed., “Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict” (Prestel, 1996), p. 79, pl. 13 (color ill.), fig. 83 (ill.).

James N. Wood and Katharine C. Lee, “Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago” (Art Institute of Chicago/New York Graphic Society Books and Little, Brown and Company, 1988), p. 150 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef”; 2nd ed., James N. Wood (Art Institute of Chicago/Hudson Hills Press, 1999), p. 151 (color ill.).

Ernst van Alphen, “Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self” (Reaktion Books, 1992), p. 102, fig. 56 (ill.).

Rudy Chiappini, ed., “Francis Bacon,” exh. cat. (Lugano: Museo d’Arte Moderna/Electa, 1993), p. 62.

Frederick Hartt, “Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture,” 4th ed. (Harry N. Abrams, 1993), p. 1017, fig. 38-15 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

James N. Wood, “Treasures of 19th- and 20th-Century Painting: The Art Institute of Chicago (Abbeville Press, 1993), p. 251 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

H. W. Janson, “History of Art,” 5th ed. (Harry N. Abrams, 1995), pp. 799, 813, fig. 1099 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef”; H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, 5th ed. rev. (1997), pp. 825, 840, fig. 1084 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef”; 6th ed. (2001), pp. 816, 833, fig. 24-64 (color ill.), as “Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef.”

Michael Peppiatt, “Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1996), p. 163.

David Sylvester et al., “Francis Bacon,” exh. cat. (Munich: Haus der Kunst, 1996), p. 35 (ill.).

James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein, “The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture” (Hudson Hills Press, 1996), p. 106 (color ill.).

“Francis Bacon,” exh. cat. (Humlebaek, Denmark: Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, 1997), p. 41 (color ill.).

Luigi Ficacci, “Francis Bacon, 1909–1992” (Taschen, 2003), p. 27 (color ill).

Michael Peppiatt, “Francis Bacon: le sacré et le profane,” exh. cat. (Paris: Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, 2004), pp. ii, 29 (ill.).

Margarita Cappock, “Francis Bacon’s Studio” (Merrell, 2005), p. 191, fig. 333 (color ill.).

Martin Harrison, “In Camera, Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting” (Thames and Hudson, 2005), pp. 126, 160–61, fig. 177 (color ill.).

Ownership History

Lucien Freud, London, by 1955; sold through Hanover Gallery, London, to the Art Institute, 1956.

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