Constructions of homosexuality in the art of Francis Bacon

Rina Arya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, I contextualise Bacon's representations of homosexuality -- that is, same-sex relations between men. The male nude made its appearance in Bacon's work in the early 1950s, a time when the nude was not a popular subject in painting and when, perhaps more critically, homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Other British contemporary homosexual artists, such as Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, steered clear of representing homosexuality, whilst others, such as Keith Vaughan, depicted homosexuality in their art in an ambiguous and diffuse fashion, often with recourse to the homoerotic. Vaughan's studies of men exercising focused on the strength and virility of the male nude, and were erotically charged without being overtly sexual. In contrast, Bacon chose to be more explicit in his depictions. He did not simply allude to, but pointed to the homosexual act of copulation. Given that Bacon was painting at a time before the legalisation of homosexuality, how can these images be explained and what was Bacon attempting to do? His representations of the homoerotic and homosexual convey social attitudes of the time and are important constructions and mediations of homosexual desire. I explain my motivations by drawing on Bacon's cultural and theoretical background. What is evident is that there is not one homogeneous interpretation of Bacon's depiction of homosexuality, but multiple readings, which are interdisciplinary. His depictions can be explained with recourse to his biography, art historical influences, political activism and his existential awareness of death. I also demonstrate how changes in the political landscape affected Bacon's portrayals in the delineation of what I describe as four thematic phases in Bacon's art.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalJournal for Cultural Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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