Although Francis Bacon is best known for his alienated and often hideously distorted human figures, animals are the subject of at least a dozen of his canvases. He rarely worked from nature, preferring photographs, and for images of animals he often consulted Eadweard Muybridge's Animals in Motion (1899), Marius Maxwell's Stalking Big Game with a Camera in Equatorial Africa (1925), and pictures from zoological parks. Intrigued by the disconcerting affinities between simians and human beings, he first compared them in 1949 in Head IV (Man with a Monkey), in which a man's averted face is concealed by that of the monkey he holds.
Like his human subjects, Bacon's animals are shown in formal portraits or candid snapshots in which they are passive, shrieking, or twisted in physical contortions. The chimpanzee in the Peggy Guggenheim work is depicted with relative benevolence, though the blurring of the image, reflecting Bacon's interest in frozen motion and the effects of photography and film, makes it difficult to interpret the pose or expression. In composition and treatment it is close to paintings of simians executed in the 1950s by Graham Sutherland, with whom Bacon became friendly in 1946. The faint, schematic framing enabled Bacon to "see" the subject better, while the monochrome background provides a starkly contrasting field that helps to define form.