Francis Bacon

          Docent Researcher Sabra Feldstein


Artist: Francis Bacon


    Dates of birth/death 28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992

     Place of Birth Dublin, Ireland to British Parents, Bacon died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, Spain

     Education Self-taught

     Employment He left home at the age of sixteen and spent two years in Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France. In Paris 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.

Major Shows/Galleries

In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the few great exponents 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 in 1984, Moscow in 1989, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1990.



     Media Anglo-Irish figurative painter known for his bold, austere, and often grotesque or nightmarish imagery

       Techniques Employed Bacon's painterly but abstract figures typically appear isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. His work expressed the satirical, horrifying, and hallucinatory.


Contextual information

     Francis Bacon, whose abstract images of psychological and physical brutality made him one of the most exalted, and most disliked artists of the postwar era, first gained acclaim in 1945, when he exhibited "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion" at the Lefevre Gallery in London. His angrily drawn image of writhing half-human, half-animal forms, perched atop pedestals and set in claustrophobic spaces, seemed to epitomize the grim spirit of postwar England and established the painter immediately as a master of the macabre.


That reputation was to be reinforced time and again by the screaming popes, butchered carcasses and distorted portraits that Mr. Bacon turned out over the next four and a half decades. Critics noted his links with, among other things, the Surrealist art of Picasso and with German Expressionism. Detractors -- and there were always many of them, especially in the United States, where he seemed so out of step with the Abstract Expressionists of his generation -- dismissed his art as sensationalistic and slick. Museums around the world bought his work, but private collectors were often loath to decorate their homes with it. The former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once called him "that man who paints those dreadful pictures."


But Mr. Bacon maintained that he was simply a realist and did not aim to shock. "You can't be more horrific than life itself," he was fond of saying.


If Paintings Had Voices, Francis Bacon’s Would Shriek by Roberta Smith

Francis Bacon is an artist for our time. You may love or hate his work, which is still vigorously polarizing after all these years. But more than that of any other artist who emerged at the end of World War II, his work tells us about the strengths and weaknesses of the moment.


His contorted figures and portraits, his screaming popes and apes, his flanks of beef and crime-scene gore, and his wrestling lovers bring to mind any number of video-melodramatists, most quickly Bill Viola, reflecting a taste for hokey humanism, spectacle and sensationalism that often seems pervasive today. His emphasis on loaded narrative over form, which can make his art seem formulaic and repetitive, is now nearly epidemic.


Bacon’s depiction of the love that until a few decades ago dared not say its name, much less demand the right to marry. Bacon convincingly painted men having sex and sometimes making love. Whether this makes him a great painter, it certainly secures him a place in the history of both painting and art. He emphatically turned the male gaze toward males.


Bacon later said that he regretted having wasted so much time while young. Instead of learning his craft, he was often drinking, gambling, sleeping around and having a brutal affair with a violent, alcoholic, drug-addicted sadist named Peter Lacy that sometimes made his friends fear for his life.


Bacon paints from his life, his imagination or somewhere in between, uncoiling new, ambiguous narratives that were often enhanced by the expansiveness of the triptych format. These paintings may not always work, but it is rarely for lack of trying. Sex, both violent and not, takes place; crimes are committed; guts are spilled. Colors become electrifying, textures enrich. The curved shelf of space that becomes the norm circles around, implicating us as intimates, voyeurs or unwilling witnesses.


It is always bracing to see his work and to realize that part of its energy derives from its refusal to go softly in art history. He reminds us that in the end very little about art is fixed, and that we should always be ready to turn on a dime.


In Mr. Bacon's work, the psychological situation is always more interesting than the painterly and visual one. A figure sits isolated in a room or rushes through a door at center canvas. In the most characteristic of them, a conversation, a sitting or an interrogation is under way. The viewer is drawn in, cast as confidante, portraitist, a member of the secret police or mere voyeur.


Bacon painted in the small London studio, which measures about 345 square feet, from 1961 until his death in 1992. It holds 7,500 carefully cataloged objects, including 100 slashed canvases, some dating back to 1946, and more than 70 drawings that Bacon never admitted making while he was alive. It's difficult to focus on those refined items, though, because they are buried under crumpled scraps of newspaper and empty Champagne packing boxes, cut-up corduroy pants and marked-up photographs, dirty brushes and paint cans filled with water, all scattered in random piles as if by a whirlwind.


Old School Bad Boy’s Messy World By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN


A Dublin Diorama Reveals A Very Untidy Francis Bacon By BRIAN LAVERY