Despite the bright background colour and presence of flowers, this painting has ominous undertones. The perspective is confusing and the heavy overcoat is draped over a large, unidentified object, creating an area of darkness at the centre of the painting. Personal torment and angst are recurring themes in Bacon’s work, and this painting reflects a general concern about the role of the individual in society, painted in the year the War ended in Europe and Japan. As society strived to adjust and rebuild itself, a sense of horror remained at events which occurred during the lengthy conflict. Bacon leaves many questions unanswered in this unusual ‘figure study,’ which contains only the suggestion of human presence.
This is an important early painting by Bacon, as he destroyed much of his work from the period of 1935 to 1944. Despite the title, it is a figure study only by implication. It is one of the few works in Bacon's oeuvre that does not feature a figure, though the trilby hat and tweed overcoat suggest a human presence. The painting was followed by a similar work, 'Figure Study II' (Huddersfield Art Gallery), which shows the same coat motif, from which a deformed, screaming figure - perhaps lurking under the coat in this painting - emerges.
Bacon was born in Dublin to English parents and in the late 1920s spent time in Berlin and Paris before settling in London. It was only after seeing an exhibition of Picasso's work in Paris that he decided to become a painter. Self-taught, he gained some success as a designer of furniture and rugs, but painted comparatively little in the 1930s. Bacon said that painting only became really important to him in about 1945, the date that his triptych of the previous year, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate Gallery, London) was exhibited in London. This controversial work served to launch the artist's career.