16 May 2017

Bacon’s Study for a Portrait, 1953, in Deleuze’s Francis Bacon commentary


by Corry Shores

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Francis Bacon


Study for a Portrait, 1953


BPK 30.005

(Thanks source: askyfilledwithshootingstars.com)


Painting 59 of Deleuze’s
Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures
Painting [11] of the English translation
and Painting [59] of the Seuil 2002 French



From the text:

Plus encore le sourire goguenard, presque intenable, insupportable, du Pape de 1954 ou de l’homme assis sur le lit : on sent qu’il doit survivre à l’effacement du corps. Les yeux et la bouche sont si bien pris sur les lignes horizontales du tableau que le visage se dissipe, au profit des coordonnées spatiales où seul subsiste le sourire insistant. [57, 59]

(Deleuze 1981a: 23c; 2002: 34a)


Furthermore, there is the scoffing, almost untenable, and insupportable smile of the 1954 Pope [19] or of the man sitting on the bed [11]: one senses that the smile will survive the effacement of the body. The eyes and the mouth are so completely caught up in the horizontal lines of the painting that the face is dissipated, in favor of the spatial coordinates in which only the insistent smile remains.

(Deleuze 2003a: 26a; 2003b: 28c; 2005: 21a)



[Deleuze discovers forces acting in and on the Figures in Bacon’s paintings. By means of these forces, the Figure’s body is trying to escape from itself through some opening in the body, like the mouth for example. As it is trying to escape itself, the body in a sense is dissipating or becoming effaced. The forces acting on and in the body are highly contortive. It is hard to imagine the Figure actually enjoying it or finding it pleasing in the sort of relaxed way that invites a smile. So it is odd to see the smiles on Bacon’s figures.

head detail


So there is a disjunction of sorts between the smile and the body. The smile displays what is beginning to escape the body, because the contortive body behind the smile is what is beginning to dissipate. We are to recall the Cheshire Cat whose smile remains after the disappearance of its body.]



From the text:

Déjà la Figure du pape qui crie se tient derrière les lames épaisses, presque les lattes d’un rideau de sombre transparence : tout le haut du corps s’estompe, et ne subsiste que comme une marque sur un suaire rayé, tandis que le bas du corps reste encore hors du rideau qui s’évase. D’où l’effet d’éloignement progressif comme si le corps était tiré en arrière par la moitié supérieure. Et sur une assez longue période, le procédé est fréquent chez Bacon. Les mêmes lames verticales de rideau entourent et raient partiellement l’abominable sourire de « Étude pour un portrait », tandis que la tête et le corps semblent aspirés || vers le fond, vers les lattes horizontales de la persienne.

(Deleuze 1981a: 24b; 2002: 34||35)


The Figure of the screaming Pope [16] is already hidden behind the thick folds (which are almost laths) of a dark, transparent curtain: the top of the body is indistinct, persisting only as if it were a mark on a striped shroud, while the bottom of the body still remains outside the curtain, which is opening out. This produces the effect of a progressive elongation, as if the body were being pulled backwards by its upper half. For a rather long period of time, this technique appeared frequently in Bacon’s works. The same vertical curtain strips surround and partially line the abominable smile of Study for a Portrait [11], while the head and the body seem to sink into the background, into the horizontal slats of the blind.

(Deleuze 2003a: 26d; 2003b: 29b; 2005: 21c)



[During the “malerisch” period in Bacon’s development, he often shrouded the Figures behind blurry streaks that appear like a thin veil or curtain that slightly obscures the Figure. (In this case, however, the shrouding is not so obviously in front of the Figure, but see the streaks that are evident in the head.)]

BPK 30.005




From the text:


L’hystérique, c’est á la fois celui qui impose sa présence, mais aussi celui pour qui les choses et les êtres sont présents, trop présents, et qui donne á toute chose et communique á tout être cet excès de présence. [...] Bacon peut dire avec humour que le sourire hystérique qu’il peint sur le portrait de 1953, sur la tête humaine de 1953, sur le pape de 1955, vient du « modèle » qui était « très nerveux, presque hystérique ». Mais c’est tout le tableau qui est hystérisé.

(Deleuze 1981a: 36c; 2002: 52c)


The hysteric is at the same time someone who imposes his or her presence, but also someone for whom things and beings are present, too present, and who attributes to every thing and communicates to every being this excessive presence. [...] Bacon explains rather testily that the hysterical smile he painted on the || 1953 portrait [11] , on the human head of 1953 [13] , and on the 1955 Pope [19] came from a “model” who was  very neurotic and almost hysterical.” But in fact it is the whole painting that is hystericized.

(Deleuze 2003a: 44b; 2003b: 50||51; 2005: 36c)



[When an image represents a situation, we might say that the image provides itself in its presence, and the represented element is given indirectly through the representation. Processing images representationally is something more or less cognitive and cerebral. Bacon’s paintings avoid representation while still providing intense sensations, and thus we are not distracted by the cognitive elements and instead are left with the raw presences of the image and its sensations. And we might also note that when we experience an overwhelming sensory experience, it attests both to the presence of those sensations as well as to the presence of whatever may be causing them, including the “forces” that are at work in imposing themselves upon our sensory apparatus. And given how overwhelming the sensations are, it attests to the excessiveness of this presence that has such a disruptive effect on our body’s workings. The Figures in Bacon’s paintings can be said to both themselves experience and express this excessive presence as well as causing us to have an overwhelming sensory experience, and thus they communicate that excessive presence to us. We might also find that in such experiences of sensory overload, our bodies begin to undergo confusions of many physical sorts, like certain components of the sensation being at odds with others. We may for example want to look away from the image in disgust while at the same time being drawn to it with rapt and eager curiosity. While under this mode of experience, we could perhaps notice certain traits of hysteria, coming especially from the lack of control of all the influences, tensions, sensations, and so on wrestling throughout our body. Deleuze’s point in these passages is that the hysteria of these Figures is something found not just in the smiles but throughout their bodies and in fact throughout the rest of the painting. For, the other elements in the painting are involved in the play of forces that give rise the Figure’s hystericized body and smile.]





Deleuze, Gilles. 1981a. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome I. Paris: Éditions de la différence.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1981b. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Tome II - Peintures. Paris: Éditions de la différence.



Deleuze, Gilles. 2002. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Éditions du seuil.




Deleuze, Gilles. 2003a. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation [with translator’s introduction (Smith’s “Deleuze on Bacon: Three Conceptual Trajectories in The Logic of Sensation”) and author’s introduction to the English edition]. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis.




Deleuze, Gilles. 2003b. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation [with translator’s preface, preface to the fourth edition by Alain Badiou and Barbara Cassin, author’s foreword, and author’s preface to the English edition]. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis.




Deleuze, Gilles. 2005. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation [with translator’s preface, preface to the fourth edition by Alain Badiou and Barbara Cassin, author’s foreword, and author’s preface to the English edition]. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. London/ New York: Continuum.





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