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 Charles Roswell Bacon  (1868 - 1913)

About: Charles Roswell Bacon


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: landscape, genre painting, design

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Bacon
1868 (New York)
1913 ((committed suicide))

New York

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landscape, genre painting, design

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The landscape and figure painter Charles Roswell Bacon was the talented and colorful father of Peggy Bacon (1875-1957), the well-known 20th century painter, poet, printmaker, author and illustrator.  A native of New York, he met his wife Elizabeth Chase at the newly-formed Art Students League in New York where they took classes under Kenyon Cox before heading off to Paris to study for a year under Lefebvre and Collin.  Upon their return, they married and settled for awhile in Ridgefield, Connecticut where they started a family.  Their first child, Peggy, was followed by two boys who died in infancy.  This left Peggy as an only child. 

The three of them thus became a very tight-knit family – something Peggy Bacon described with tremendous enthusiasm when she was interviewed by Pau Cummings for the Archives of American Art artist interview project in 1973.  She told Cummings that her parents “were professionals” and provided an important sketch of her father’s artist interests and personality: Father…had exhibitions in New York at the Fulton Gallery and at the Milch Gallery.  We spent certain winters in New York when I was a child.  He took me around to galleries.  Then we lived in France for a couple of years, at Montreaux-sur-Mer in Picardy.  It was absolutely delightful.  I had the most charming and amusing parents.  We led a very close life together.  There was a great deal of reading aloud.  They were both very well read.  They were passionate readers of Henry James as fast as his novels came out.  Every evening there was reading aloud.  Well, it was a lovely life, really.  Well, Father was very gregarious.”

Because he and his wife traveled so much in connection with their interests and careers, Charles Bacon hired private tutors for their daughter.  Peggy Bacon recalls never having set foot in a school, speculating that back then, private tutors could not have been very expensive since “Mother and Father were never very affluent.  That’s putting it mildly.  As I recall, all my life we had an extraordinary amount of amenities and delicacies even and delights considering that they were poverty stricken.  The food was marvelous, very gourmet food.  And there were quantities of books, endless books arriving. And a great deal of charm.  They were people of taste.  Father was very well-read in French.  He spoke French so well that French people mistook him for a Frenchman.  And yet he had no schooling from the age of ten.”

Figure painting by Charles Bacon is characteristic of the lyrical, impressionistic palette the artist adopted after his exposure to the work of Whistler and even more directly to the work of the American painter, Theodore Robinson.  On one of his early trips to France, Bacon lived and painted for an extended period in Giverny, the home of Claude Monet, alongside Robinson who became an intimate friend and mentor.

Despite his success as an artist, Charles Bacon suffered from severe depression – the same illness which led his father, Otto Bacon, an importer of marble, to drink himself to death after the failure of his business.  Several months after the Armory Show, Charles Bacon took his own life in his studio, which was crammed with many unfinished canvases.  Among his close friends was the successful illustrator, Ernest Peixotto, who wrote a beautiful celebration of Charles Bacon, the man and the artist, in the catalogue accompanying the memorial exhibition and public sale of Bacon’s work at the Metropolitan Art Association Anderson Galleries on January 19 and 20, 1914:

“The Art of Charles Roswell Bacon was, pre-eminently, the art of a colorist, of a lover of gamuts of pearly grays and the blonder harmonies of sunlight and sky.  In this love of color lay the delightful breeziness and out-door felling of his landscapes and the subtle grays and Whistlerian reticence of his interiors…In their sketchiness (Bacon’s canvases) much resemble the work of John Twachtman, whose splendid achievement has only come into its own since his death.  There was much in common in the personality of these two men – in their great personal charm that made warm friends and held them – the quality that the Latins call simpatico; and that it was, that gave to their work its emotional, delicate feeling.”

Submitted by Edward P. Bentley, of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, researcher of early American Art.

Biographical Information: “Interview with Peggy Bacon conducted by Paul Cummings,” at the artist’s home in Cape Porpoise, Maine, May 8, 1973; Artists Oral Histories, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  Written by Heritage Galleries, Dallas, Texas.  

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