Francis Elek, London; purchased from the above; thence by descent
During Roy de Maistre and Francis Bacon's brief but productive period of close artistic interaction during the early 1930s, the two evidently worked from a stuffed figure Bacon kept in his studio at Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea.1 This doll formed the basis of several compositions by both artists, among them the present work.
It is a strange, unsettling composition, with the picture plane broken and flattened by the architecture of window frame and staircase balustrade and by a deliberate, self-conscious cubist stylism. Within this faceted space, a limbless, wraith-like figure is propped on a stool or wash stand, its long, dinosaur neck reaching towards the tub. Dreamlike, somehow ominous, vaguely sexual, it is nevertheless something more than a singularly weird invention.
Writing of the larger and later version of this work known as Figure by a bath (1937), Andrew Brighton has noted the painting's 'broader significance. The globular figure in de Maistre's painting resembles Bacon's destroyed Abstraction (circa 1936), Figure getting out of a car (circa 1943) and the central figure of Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion (1944). They are the prototypes of the Furies and Harpies, the vengeful agents of guilt that reappear in Bacon's work in different forms over the years. A shared iconography is an indication of such intellectual and professional intimacy that Bacon's debt to de Maistre clearly went beyond the technical.'2
The present work captures de Maistre's restless, questing spirit and his fascination with and absorption of European avant-garde manners – cubism, expressionism and surrealism – while at the same time it clearly demonstrates the nature and extent of his influence on the young Francis Bacon.
1. This information is from Adrian Mibus, cited in Heather Johnson, Roy de Maistre: the English years 1930-1968, Sydney: Craftsman House, 1995, p. 24
2. Andrew Brighton, Francis Bacon, London: Tate Publishing, 2001, p. 24
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