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 Francis Bacon  (1909 - 1992)

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About: Francis Bacon
 

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Lived/Active: England/Ireland/Spain      Known for: surreal, cubist portrait, still life and figure painting, furniture design

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BIOGRAPHY for Francis Bacon
Facts/Data
Birth
1909 (Dublin, Ireland)
 
Death
1992 (Madrid, Spain)

Lived/Active
England/Ireland/Spain


Self portrait - STUDY FOR SELF-PORTRAIT
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Often Known For
surreal, cubist portrait, still life and figure painting, furniture design

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1909 of English parents. His father was a major in the British army and his mother was a member of the family who owned one of the largest Georgian houses in the center of Dublin. Francis was shunted between relatives during outbreaks of the Irish Civil War; he was an asthmatic who turned purple the first time he rode with the hunt. His disruptive upbringing consisted of private tutorials with a priest and a year of boarding school. He was encouraged by his mother to dress up in her clothes. His adolescence was very turbulent because of his homosexuality and his ambiguous relationship to his tyrannical racehorse-trainer father. Bacon was sent packing by his family at sixteen, for having had sex with some of his father's grooms and for being caught dressed only in his mother's underwear.

He went first to London, then to Berlin and Paris, where a Picasso exhibition inspired him to dabble in drawings and water colors, and finally he moved back to London. During the 1930s Bacon was predominantly a designer of innovative modern furniture. He never went to art school, but experimented during these years with the current French artistic avant-garde as his models. He was excused from military service on account of his asthma, but World War II had nonetheless a galvanizing effect on him. As he launched his painting career in earnest towards the close of 1944, Auschwitz and Hiroshima were godparents to his painted furies.

To many viewers Bacon's canvases seem ghastly depictions of torment---half-decomposed portraits of images better left 'un-pictured'. But Bacon is considered to be one of Britain's most exciting painters, deserving of success because he has resisted every trend and fashion in art to hack out a path of his own. Though shaped by such old masters as Rembrandt, Daumier and Velasquez, he has been as much influenced by the immediacy of the photograph as by anything else. War, terrorism, gory accidents - these fleeting instants of agony fascinate Bacon. His lack of formal training was a handicap he turned to advantage. Uninhibited by drawing skills or rules of composition, he painted simply for effect. This recipe for disaster served him well. His early paintings, from the 1940s, look cramped and underdeveloped, as though bred in captivity. That is their great quality.

Bacon was always fascinated by the work of Edweard Muybridge. The groundbreaking 19th-century photographer was a pioneer in fixing actual moments on film. He was also an inspiration to generations of visual artists. For painters, Muybridge showed a way out from the traditional, academic manner of looking at figures in motion. The very fact that his photographs were purported to represent a straight-forward account of an action and were not posed made them attractive to Bacon, who always wanted to depict facts as he saw them. He hated being described as a realist, and nothing, apparently can be more realistic than a camera mindlessly clicking away.

In real life, Bacon was as mysterious as he was on canvas. Keeping one step ahead of the landlord, he moved about London so much that the art world was never sure where he could be found. In the 1950s he lived in Tangier for a time; at one time he lived in Monte Carlo, but in both cases, he found the light too strong to paint comfortably. From 1961 he had several studios in the South Kensington area of London, each with problems concerning the light. He was able to paint better in London than in Paris, and, although he wanted his home to be clean, he was also most happy working in utter chaos. He lived with his elderly, eccentric nanny who slept on the kitchen table during the day. She doubled as a hatcheck girl in an illegal clambing den in the artist's paint-spattered studio.

For the last thirty years of his life, Bacon lived in a bathtub-in-the-kitchen flat with paint tubes on the floor and trial brushstrokes on the walls. He carried around a wad of bills, but wore the same black turtlenecks and drank in the same seedy bars. He worked not just with brushes, but with rags and rakes and sprays. He sometimes squeezed tubes of paint into his palm, flinging the paint at the canvas with one gesture of his hand. A compulsive perfectionist, he destroyed more of his paintings than he finished. Bacon admitted to being obsessed by death; though he used many of the instinctual techniques of the action painters, he did not like abstract art.

Bacon has been renowned as Britain's finest figurative painter; his works have hung in museums in the United States since the early 1950s. His commercial success is a telling comment on just how open-minded the general public has become, for Bacon's material is, to put it simply, sick. He made no bones about the fact that the obsessive subject of his paintings was homosexual despair. He argued, however, that the despair he has observed among heterosexuals amounted to more or less the same thing. To capture the feverish, nightmare quality of the experiences Bacon depicted, he had developed what is essentially a surrealist dream style to near perfection.

Bacon died in Madrid, Spain in April 1992 of a heart attack.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.


Sources:
Time Magazine, June 8, 1962; also November 29, 1968
Peter Plagens in Newsweek, May 11, 1992
Paul Richard in the Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1989
David Cohen in Art in America, January 1997
A review of Francis Bacon by Andrew Sinclair
"The Golden Gutter Life of Francis Bacon" by Daniel Farson by Jeffery Hogrefe in the Los Angeles Times on April 10, 1984.




Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful and original figure painters in the twentieth century.  He was particularly noted for the obsessive intensity of his work.

Bacon was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 28, 1909, to English parents.  Raised with three siblings, Francis Bacon is a descendant of the sixteenth-century statesman and essayist of the same name.  He left home at the age of sixteen and spent two years in Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France where he saw an art exhibit by the painter Pablo Picasso (1881–1973).  Though he had never taken an art class, Bacon began painting with watercolors.  He then settled in London, England, with the intention of establishing himself as an interior decorator and furniture designer.  However, he soon turned to painting exclusively.

Bacon began oil painting in 1929.  The few early paintings that survive (he destroyed most of them) show that he began as a late Cubist.  By 1932 he turned to a form of Surrealism based partly on Pablo Picasso's works from about 1925 to 1928.  Bacon began to draw attention in 1933 with his work Crucifixion, and the same year he took part in exhibitions in London.

Bacon exhibited very rarely until 1945.  It was only after World War II that his paintings became known outside his immediate circle of friends.  At this time he also began to paint the human figure.  The pictures that made his reputation are of such subjects as a melting head in front of a curtain and a screaming figure crouching under an umbrella.  These extremely original works are impressive not only as powerful expressions of emotion, but also for the magnificence of their presentation and professional quality.

By the early 1950s Bacon had developed a more direct treatment of the human figure, working almost always from photographs rather than from real life. Images taken from newspaper clippings or from the photographs of humans and animals by the nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge were sometimes combined with images from the well-recognized paintings of the Old Masters.  For instance, a series of paintings inspired by the portrait of Pope Innocent X by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) also uses a screaming face and eyeglasses that came from a close-up of a wounded nurse in Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin.  Such a combination of images drawn from completely unrelated sources is characteristic of Bacon's work.

From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life in the early 1990s, the consistent theme of his work was the isolation and pain of the individual, with a single figure (usually male) seated or standing in a small, windowless interior, as if confined in a private hell.  His subjects were artists, friends, lovers and even himself.  His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands, and dust along with paint and brush.

Bacon consistently denied that his paintings were used to explain his own life.  The facts of his life, however, have tempted art critics and historians to draw links between his personal life and the subject matter of his paintings.  One of the great tragedies of his life was the death of his longtime lover George Dyer, who apparently killed himself.  Dyer's death occurred just before the opening of Bacon's major 1971 retrospective in Paris, France.  Bacon's famous and moving Triptych (1973) was a three-paneled work of his dying friend hunched over a toilet, shadowed in a door frame and vomiting into a sink.

In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the few great representatives of the figure-painting tradition.  During the last decade of his life major retrospective exhibitions were mounted at such sites as the Marlborough Gallery in New York City in 1984, Moscow in 1989 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1990. 

Bacon died of heart failure in Madrid, Spain, on April 28, 1992.

On May 14, 2008, the Bacon painting Triptych, 1976 sold at Sotheby's contemporary art sale for $86.28 million, a record for the artist at auction.  The painting was bought by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.  The sale broke the 2007 record for his work of $52.68 million.

Quote:
"Images also help me find and realize ideas. I look at hundreds of very different, contrasting images and I pinch details from them, rather like people who eat from other people’s plates."

Select Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Bilboa Fine Arts Museum, Spain
Tate Gallery, London
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy


Biography from Coskun Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Despite his lack of formal art training, Francis Bacon has established a stronghold in the contemporary art market because of his unique artwork.  His father, an Englishman and distant descendant of the Elizabethan philosopher Francis Bacon, was a racehorse trainer, and his mother was an heiress to a Sheffield steel business and coal mine.

In 1929, Bacon moved to a studio in London's South Kensington neighborhood and began his career as a furniture designer and interior decorator, soon producing some of his earliest paintings.  In 1945 the exhibition of his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion at the Lefevre Gallery on New Bond Street created a buzz in the art world and immediately secured his reputation.  The triptych is now considered quintessential Bacon, but in 1945 the bright orange background with the stone cold anthropomorphic forms was disquieting and visually revolutionary.

Bacon’s works are often in the form of triptychs and often use mythological allusions and distorted human forms to engage the viewer.  In his lifetime, he finished approximately 600 paintings and 40 printed works.  However, after his death, 98 slashed canvases were found in his studio, a testament to his own exacting and critical eye.

His retrospective at the Tate Britain from 2008-2009, which subsequently travelled to the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has helped bring more attention to his life and has contributed to strong prices in the marketplace for his works.

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