The foreground of Painting features a man dressed in a black suit and holding an umbrella. His face, hoary and grotesque, is obscured above his moustache by the shadow of an umbrella. A yellow flower attached to the lapel of the man's jacket stands out clearly against the black of his clothing, and is the only yellow used in the painting.

The man sits or stands inside a round enclosure made either of white metal or wood. Around the perimeter of these circular bars, two pieces of meat--what appear to be shanks of beef--are penetrated and supported by the enclosure. In front of the man, a platform of some sort extends toward the viewer. Behind him hangs a massive carcass, its limbs suspended outwards to expose the ribcage.

Three rectangular shapes that seem to be window blinds hang with cords behind the suspended meat. In the middle of the painting, in the deep background, abstract shapes that may or may not be human forms stand around on a catwalk.


Bacon claimed that he did not intend for "Painting" to become what it did; in fact, it started out as "an accident. I was attempting to make a bird alighting on a field. And it may have been bound up in some way with the three forms that had gone before, but suddenly the line that I had drawn suggested something totally different and out of this suggestion arose this picture." [quoted at Wikipedia, from a BBC interview in October, 1962:]

Regardless of Bacon's intentions, the combination of brutally exposed meat that is hung as though crucified, a figure that resembles either a mourner or perhaps Adolf Hitler, and the effect of the three colored panels at creating a triptych background, invite a viewer to contemplate the relationships between Christianity and religion, man and animal, the savagery of war and the butchering of animals, and life and death.

According to one art critic, war, meat, and dictators are major preoccupations of Bacon's. "The faceless mouth will be familiar to anyone who in childhood saw news-photographs of Mussolini.....and the seated figure itself ... a disquieting likeness, though a distant one, to the official photographs taken at Yalta--above all, perhaps, to Roosevelt with his big cape fastened high at the neck" (Russell, pp. 26-28).


Painted in 1946

Primary Source

Museum of Modern Art, New York