Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres
Date 1983
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 198 x 147.5 cm
Inventory ID UID 102-032
Francis Bacon was born in Ireland to English parents. As a child he was asthmatic and mistreated, firmly rejected by his family when his homosexuality was discovered. Bacon spent many years in Berlin, then in Paris, where he led a precarious life. On returning to London, he set himself up as a decorator and painted his first canvases, strongly influenced by Surrealism and Picasso. Bacon was a largely self-taught artist, and he described himself as a ‘late beginner’ in 1945. Bacon devoted himself extensively to the exploration of works by classical artists. For this reason, his composition was greatly inspired by the theme developed by Ingres in his three versions of Oedipus and the Sphinx, one of which is in the National Gallery in London. ‘Oedipus no longer occupies the centre of the painting, as with Ingres, but is pushed or pulled towards the right side, leaving only part of himself visible in a centre that is otherwise empty: a head and a leg, the latter amply bandaged and exhibiting two deep bleeding wounds. Whereas with Ingres, Oedipus is dominant, occupying the centre and circumventing the Sphinx with confidence, Bacon makes the winner a loser’, wrote David Sylvester. Oedipus appears as an injured athlete, presenting his wounded foot to the Sphinx as an offering (the origin of the tragedy). In the background, behind the track delimited by the monochrome pink panels, the bloodstained Fury heralds inexorable fate. In its construction, with the isolation of its figures and the contraction of time in the tragedy Bacon conveys, this painting from 1983 is one of his great works. J-FC