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Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

The British, Irish-born painter Francis Bacon is one among the most important painters of the 20th century. Bacon was born in Dublin on 28 October 1909 to English parents who have recently moved to Ireland. His family moved between England and Ireland in the post war years, but his homelife became strained as he entered puberty and began to realize his homosexuality. In 1926, after being thrown out of the family home, the 16 year old Bacon arrived in London with little money and no clear plan. The following year, he travelled to Berlin and Paris - there he saw Pablo Picasso’s 1927’s exhibition which deeply impressed him. Toward the end of 1928 Bacon returned to London, where he worked as a furniture and interior designer. He began exhibiting some of his designs in studio shows with painters Jean Shepeard and Roy de Maistre. Bacon also met one of his early patrons, businessman Eric Hall, with whom he had an intimate relationship that lasted over 15 years. Bacon began to shift his energies toward painting, and in 1933 he produced his first significant painting Crucifixion (1933), that shows the influence of Picasso and his biomorphic forms.

Despite some modest success, Bacon struggled to live from his work. He also grew dissatisfied with his early works, and destroyed most of the paintings from the period. At the outset of World War II, Bacon was exempt from military service because of his asthma, but he volunteered for Civil Duty, where he worked in Air Raid Precautions until 1943. This period was also artistically formative for Bacon - paintings from the period like Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) propelled him to the center of London’s post-war art scene. In 1948, Bacon enjoyed a career milestone when the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired Painting (1946). During this time, Bacon created some of his most recognized and important works, the Head series (1949), and began his series of screaming Popes that were largely inspired by Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650). After his long engagement with the Pope series, Bacon presented a series inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888). Paintings like Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh I (1957) represent a clear break from the artist’s previous monochromatic paintings.

In 1961, Bacon settled in South Kensington, London, where he remained for the rest of his life. Paintings from the period like Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962) were large scale triptychs, a popular format that is in Bacon’s body of work. In 1963, Bacon’s retrospective opened at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York further solidifying his international status. Years later in 1971, at the opening of his large retrospective in Paris, he learned of the suicide of friend and former lover George Dyer. Many subsequent paintings were dedicated to the subject such as Triptych March 1974 (1974). Throughout the 1980s, Bacon was internationally recognized with a Tate retrospective in 1985 and international showings in Moscow (1988) and Washington (1989). Francis Bacon died of pneumonia on April 28th 1992 while on a visit to Madrid.

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Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged, raw imagery. He is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon said that he saw images "in series", and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1930s Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

Bacon took up painting in his late 30s, having drifted as an interior decorator, bon vivant and gambler. He said that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest. His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which sealed his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s he mainly produced portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover George Dyer, his art became more sombre, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death. The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including his 1982's "Study for Self-Portrait" and Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person was highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and openly gay. He was a prolific artist, but nonetheless spent many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud (though the two fell out in the mid-1970s, for reasons neither ever explained), John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson, Tom Baker, and Jeffrey Bernard.

After Dyer's suicide he largely distanced himself from this circle, and while his social life was still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continued, he settled into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. The art critic Robert Hughes described him as "the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world" and along with Willem de Kooning as "the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50's of the 20th century." Francis Bacon was the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais. Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerged to set record prices at auction. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud set the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction.

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