Three Studies for a Crucifixion [Francis Bacon]

Margaret Thatcher called him "that man who paints those dreadful pictures"

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Not ideal for those with vertigo

Saher Sohail

Contributor

If you’re thinking Three Studies for a Crucifixion is just a song by Japanese grindcore noise rock band Melt Banana, guess again. It’s also a grindcore noise rock painting by Francis Bacon…kind of.

1944 was not a good year. These were dark times, indeed, during what seemed to be the very grim high point of World War II. If you look up a timeline of 1944, it looks like every day of every month was a bombing or a battle in some country or another. Hence the name: World War II.  And of course, who other than Francis Bacon could depict the abnormal amounts of senseless destruction from this war so acutely?

He’s got the meatiest surname in the art world, and his paintings aren’t exactly vegan-friendly either. In fact, they can even make hard-core carnivores like myself grimace distastefully at the sight of a steak. Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion were made in 1944, which was officially one of the worst years on earth, it seems. They were followed by other triptychs based on the theme of crucifixion with the same characteristic Baconian carcasses/humanoid animals. But this triptych, in my humble opinion, is the goriest and the realest of them all. Partly because the bodies in this one are closest to actual human beings and they’re beyond vulnerable in canvas 2 and 3. The canvases seem to show a progression of the human body going from upright and alive, to a weird clinical mutilation, all the way to butchered and splayed.

Yep, it’s not a pretty picture. It’s extremely dehumanizing and reduces the human body to flesh in a meat market. Which is what the destruction of war was essentially doing i.e. treating humans like cattle in a slaughterhouse. And Bacon likes to use the symbol of crucifixion to expound on this theme of brutality. According to Gilles Deleuze (a really smart guy whose words are dense as a brick sometimes), Francis Bacon was “only a religious painter in butcher shops.” It also explains why he likes to use triptychs for his meaty works. That manner of divvying up the canvases is also very much in keeping with the Christian painting tradition. Something about a triptych adds to the story-like theme. Though this one is hardly for the Disney archives.

Bacon himself said on the subject of such paintings: “I’ve always been very moved by pictures of slaughterhouses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing of Crucifixion. Of course we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.” …Ok, Francis. Have to say though, I’m kinda glad people never had the option of frying up a few rashers of you.