Francis Bacon

01.12.11: Britain's Greatest Artist - Born 1909 - Died: 1992

Francis Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin. At the age of 16, he moved to London and subsequently lived for about two years in Berlin and Paris.

Although Bacon never attended art school, he began to draw and work in watercolor. Upon his return to London in 1929, he established himself as a furniture designer and interior designer. In the fall of that year he began to use oils and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, the artist organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, London, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. He participated in a group show at Thomas Agnew and Sons, London in 1937.

Bacon painted relatively little after his solo show in 1934 and in the 1930's and early 1940's destroyed many of his works. He began to paint intensively again in 1944. Pablo Picasso's work decisively influenced his painting until the mid 1940's. From the mid 1940's to the 50's, Bacon's work reflected the influence of Surrealism.

In the 50's, Bacon drew on such sources as Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X and Vincent Van Gogh's The Painter on the Road to Tarascon. Bacon soon developed his distinctive style as a figure painter. In his mature style, developed in the 1950's, the paintings include images of either friends or lovers, or images of people found in movie stills, reproductions of historic paintings and medical photos. His people scream in physical and psychic pain, seemingly tortured in bedrooms, bathrooms and cages. His work was always expressionist in style with distorted human and animal forms, potent images of corrupt and disgusting humanity.

Bacon's dramatic and riveting work gained international recognition and acclaim. His first major show took place at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. His first solo exhibition outside England was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York. His first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1955.

In 1962, the Tate Gallery, London, organized a Bacon retrospective, a modified version of which traveled to Mannheim, Turin, Zurich, and Amsterdam.

Other important exhibitions of his work were held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963 and the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971; paintings from 1968 to 1974 were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1975. Retrospectives of his work were held at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989-1990 and at the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1996.

The artist died April 28, 1992, in Madrid.

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Francis Bacon was a self-taught painter who destroyed a large part of his output, so much so that virtually nothing of his early work has survived. In 1944 he exhibited a triptych of three distorted figures at the base of a crucifix, in a violent orange colour, who appear to be howling desperately. Through his highly personal subject-matter, which includes a Self-Triptych (1986) expressing his mental conflict and turmoil, he concentrated chiefly on dogs, carcasses, and evocations of men, including elderly tycoons and Velazquez's Innocent X, caged in plate glass and screaming in a silent world of horror, dissolution and fear, and expressed with energy and singleness of aim all the gradations of emotion from pity and disgust to horror, traumatic revulsion and the unbalance of panic. His work, which can be interpreted as an attempt to evoke an essentially partial, since incomplete, catharsis in the spectator, raises in its most acute form the problem of the relationship between art and pleasure. He considered his paintings to be the reflection of his nervous system projected on to canvas, and his opinion, expressed in 1953, that painting is pure intuition and luck, was the presage of the action painting and Abstract Expressionism that was soon to dominate the scene, although he rejected abstract art for himself, since he felt that it evaded the problem of the representation of the human figure which he regarded as the artist's principal challenge. He has been acclaimed as the greatest English artist since Turner. He may have a few imitators, but his art is so extremely personal that he has no successors.

There are pictures by him in Aberdeen, Batley, Belfast, Birmingham, Berlin, Brussels, Buffalo NY, Canberra, Chicago, Detroit, Edinburgh (M of MA), London (Tate), Manchester (Whitworth), New York (M of MA, Guggenheim), Ottawa, Paris (Pompidou) and Yale.

Related: Lucian Freud


Francis Bacon was born in Dublin of British parents, he moved to London in 1925, and soon after left Britain to live in Berlin and Pans. He settled permanently in London c. 1928-9. After working first as an interior designer, he began to paint c. 1930 without formal training, and without much success at first. But ever since 1944 with his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, he has held the central position in British painting and world figurative art. His paintings are usually of a male or female figure set in an enclosed interior space. The scenes depicted with distorted figures in action often seem disturbing and are frequently presented in three panels, as tnptychs - a format Bacon has virtually invented in modern painting - relating in formal rather than narrative manner. Often ideas for pictures originate in an existing visual source: X-ray photographs, Eadweard Muybridge's sequential studies of figures in motion, photographs and film stills.

Bacon's response to the art of the past which he admires deeply is for the paintings of Rembrandt, Velazquez and Goya (e.g. the series of screaming popes which he began in the mid-1950s based on Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X, which are also related to the 'still' of the screaming nurse in Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin, and the detail of the woman screaming in Nicolas Poussin's The Massacre of the Holy Innocents). Bacon's paintings are not, however, solely about subject matter; he is a perfectionist concerning technique, seeking a balance between chance and order in the way images are built up 'accidentally' from the application of paint on canvas.

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Recent releases

Francis Bacon Bio. - Smartphones Page. Francis Bacon Rare Exhibition Catalogues/Books - Smartphones Page. Francis Bacon memorabilia here. Recommended reading for the artist @ amazon with their Francis Bacon page.

Sept. 13: a stroll through Tate Britain revealed a couple of stunning Bacons currently on display. Smartphone page here of photos with pics of some amazing paintings from other artists.


Click here to read about the life & art of one of Bacon's contemporaries.


Click here to read about someone I consider to be vastly underrated.


Bacon's equal? Certainly a genius in British art. All about his world is here.

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