Francis Bacon - Oedipus and the Sphinx (after Ingres)


Lithograph in colours, 1984, on wove paper, signed by the artist in pencil, with the blindstamp of the Publisher. This is dedicated “To Paul Schupf” (Bottom centre)

Edition: HC - There was a signed and numbered edition of 150

Literature: Francis Bacon: Oeuvre Graphique (Catalogue Raisonee) Bruno Sabatier Number 83-03

Francis Bacon Estampes, Collection Alexandre Tacou Number 17

Published by: Editions de la Difference, Paris

Printed by: Arts Litho, Paris

Note: This work is after a canvas by the artist , made in 1983 measuring 198 x 147.5 cms.  

The 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.

The work depicts Oedipus meeting the Sphinx at the crossroads on his journey between Thebes and Delphi. Oedipus must answer the Sphinx's riddle correctly in order to pass. Failure means his own death and that of the besieged Thebans. The riddle was: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?". Oedipus answered: "Man: as an infant, he crawls on all fours; as an adult, he walks on two legs and; in old age, he uses a walking stick". Oedipus was the first to answer the riddle correctly and, having heard Oedipus' answer, the Sphinx was astounded and killed herself by throwing herself into the sea. Oedipus thereby won the freedom of the Thebans, the kingdom of that city and a wife Jocasta, who it was later revealed was his mother

Size: Image: 127,7 x 90 cm - 46 x 33 7/8 in. ; Sheet : 50 1/4 x 35 3/8 in - 1170 x 860 mms


  1. Private Collection,New York
  2. Paul J Schupf. The dedicee of this print was an Art Collector patron of Francis Bacon who, we believe, was gifted this print for buying an original canvas. More can be seen about him on Schupf had a Private Investment Firm in New York. As a prolific art collector, Schupf’s personal collection included the works of Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, and Ed Ruscha.