Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992

Francis Bacon was a British artist who is hailed now as one of the creative giants of 20th Century art. He seemed not to belong to a movement or style. His works display a darkly unique perspective of realism that has rewarded him with a unique and momentous reputation that places him amongst the great masters in the art history canon today.

Bacon was born in Dublin 1909 to an English family and had a problematic childhood. After spending years between England and Ireland, the family moved to London with the outbreak of the Great War. 

Bacon was a shy character who struggled with his identity and sexuality, causing him to repeatedly run away from his school in Cheltenham between the years of 1924 -1926. His childhood was cut short when his authoritarian father, having always despised his son’s effeminate manner, exiled him from the family home after finding him dressed up in his mother’s underwear.

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Bacon arrived in London in 1926 with little education and a weekly allowance of £3 from his mother. After a difficult year, he travelled to Berlin where he spent time exploring homosexual nightclubs. He also went to see a Pablo Picasso exhibition at Galerie Paul Rosenberg which inspired him to attend more exhibitions and to begin drawing and painting.

 

Returning to London the following year, he moved to South Kensington with his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. At the time, he worked as a furniture and interior designer,  in a Modernist style. He struck up a relationship with his patron, Eric Hall, who was his lover and supporter between the years of 1934 -1950. As well as designing, Bacon also continued to paint, mastering techniques. He organised his first solo exhibition in the basement of a friend’s house in 1934, which was renamed the ‘Transition Gallery” for the purpose. Unfortunately, his works were not well-received.

'Picasso is the reason why I paint...'

In 1939, in the approach of the Second World War, Bacon was exempt from military service due to his asthma. Still keen to paint, he spent 1941 working in Hampshire, before returning to London where he met Lucian Freud. The works created over these years marked the beginning of his artistic career. Bacon became central to an artistic community in post-war Soho, which included Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, the photographer John Deakin, Henrietta Moraes, Isabel Rawsthorne and others. On Sutherland’s recommendation, Bacon was set up with a contract with the Hanover Gallery and sold his first painting to the Museum of Modern Art in 1948. Bacon gambled away the money during a trip to Monte Carlo. With homosexuality remaining illegal, Bacon’s lifestyle in London and France was tinged with the illicit.

During the early 1950s, Bacon began to focus on the theme of entrapment and religion. His paintings of popes alternated with those of contemporary figures in suits and were the works that established his reputation. During this period, Peter Lacey became Bacon’s lover and inspired homoerotic images of wrestlers. In Italy in 1954, Bacon’s works were shown at the Venice Biennale where he shared the British pavilion with Ben Nicholson and Freud. Two years later, he reunited with Paul Lacey in Tangiers, and met other writers and artists. Bacon returned regularly until Lacey’s death in 1962. 

'I use the frame to see the image – for no other reason. I know it’s been interpreted as being many other things… I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down. Just to see it better.'

In 1957, an exhibition of Bacon’s at the Hanover Gallery marked the transition from his monochromatic works towards bold colour. His works were successful and he decided to transfer to a new dealer, Marlborough Fine Art. They paid off his gambling debts, gave him larger exhibitions and ensured that the artist didn’t destroy too many of his works.

 

By 1961, Bacon had settled again in South Kensington where he remained for the rest of his life. In the following year, the Tate Gallery organised a major touring retrospective which displayed his use of the triptych which would become his characteristic format. At the time he began interviewing with critic David Sylvester which would constitute the canonical text on his own work. 

'You know in my case all painting – and the older I get, the more it becomes so – is accident.'

In 1963-64, Bacon's international reputation was finally confirmed with another retrospective, this time at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Then after a few years of nominations for awards and prizes, he was awarded a large Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, 1971. However, on the eve of the opening of the exhibition, his long-time lover George Dyer committed suicide, the event haunted the exhibition and chaos ensued.

In the 1970s, Bacon regularly travelled to New York and Paris. He had also begun a new relationship with companion and model Jon Edwards. Over the next decades, Bacon continued to work and exhibit. His works from this period were dominated by the triptych with a changed use of space and colour.

 

On a visit to Madrid in 1992 Bacon was hospitalised with pneumonia exacerbated by asthma and died  there that April.

You can see a collection of his seminal works at Tate Britain London, as well as at other leading modern art collections worldwide.

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Triptych, three studies of Lucian Freud, a set of 3 original lithographs, 1966, for sale at Slade House (above) made in relation to  Bacon's Triptych, 3 studies of Lucian Freud, oil on canvas, (below) which sold for $142 million at Christie's New York in 2013 . (copyright the Francis Bacon estate)

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Lucian Freud by John Deakin, 1964 - Bacon liked to work from photographs rather than life.

Copyright the Francis Bacon estate.

Slade House collects and owns original lithographs, giclees and limited edition prints by all of the artists represented here - only some of which are for sale online. Please get in touch if you would like to see our wider collection.