Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Seated Figure, 1974
Olio e pastello su tela / Oil and pastel on canvas
198 x 147,5 cm
Collezione privata / Private collection
© 2012 The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. BY SIAE, Roma, and DACS, London

Francis Bacon (1909, Dublin–1992, Madrid) was born to an English family in Dublin, the second of five children of Christina Firth, a steel heiress, and Edward Bacon, a race-horse trainer and former army officer. His childhood was blighted by asthma, from which he suffered throughout his life. With the outbreak of war in 1914, the family moved to London and spent the post-war years between London and Ireland. After his father, repelled by his homosexuality, threw him out of the family home, in 1926 Bacon arrived in London with little schooling but with a weekly allowance of £3 from his mother. In 1927 Bacon traveled to Berlin and Paris. Returning to London the following year, he settled there working as a furniture and interior designer. However, Bacon continued to pursue his passion for painting with de Roy de Maistre as an important influence and guide, and with results showing the impact of Jean Lurçat and Picasso. In 1934 he organized his first solo exhibition in the basement of a friend’s house renamed Transition Gallery, but it was not well received and he responded by destroying the paintings.

At the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s the works which he later considered as the beginning of his career emerged, pre-eminently the partial bodies of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, which was first shown at the Lefevre Gallery (April 1945) to be criticized and acclaimed alike. In post-war Soho Bacon became central to an artistic milieu which included Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, John Deakin, Henrietta Moraes and others.

The early 1950s constituted a period of success. Bacon’s first post-war solo exhibition included the first of many works inspired by Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Hanover Gallery, 1951–1952), showing the importance of the use of historical works for his paintings. This was followed by the artist’s New York debut (Durlacher Gallery, 1953). The paintings of Popes, which established his reputation, alternated with those of contemporary figures in suits—often similarly composed. Together with these, however, after a trip to Egypt and South Africa (1950) a lighter tonality emerged in paintings of sphinxes and of animals. During this period Peter Lacey became Bacon’s lover and inspired homoerotic images of wrestlers derived from Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs. Photography became a habitual source, and the theme of sexual encounter persisted as well. In Italy, in 1954, Bacon avoided seeing Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X in Rome and his own paintings at the Venice Biennale, where he shared the British pavilion with Ben Nicholson and Freud.

Despite the success of his paintings after Van Gogh (Hanover Gallery, 1957), the next year the painter transferred dealer to Marlborough Fine Art, that paid off his growing gambling debts and mounted larger exhibitions. In 1961, Bacon settled in Reece Mews, South Kensington, where he remained for the rest of his life, and the following year the

Tate Gallery organized a major touring retrospective. At that time he recorded the first of the interviews with the critic David Sylvester which would have constituted the canonical text on his own work. Bacon’s international reputation was confirmed by his retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1963), and by the publication of Ronald Alley’s catalogue raisonné. He refused the Carnegie Institute Award (1967) and donated the Rubens Prize towards the restorations after the flood of Florence. On the eve of Bacon’s large retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris (1971), his long-time lover George Dyer committed suicide, and this event left haunting echoes in ensuing paintings. In 1974 John Edwards became the painter’s new companion and model. In the 1970s Bacon traveled regularly to New York and Paris. Publications devoted to him helped to establish the popular image of his work as a manifesto of modern human condition. International exhibitions became more wide-ranging: Marseilles (1976), Mexico and Caracas (1977), Madrid and Barcelona (1978), Tokyo (1983). The exhibitions culminated in a second Tate retrospective (1985, traveling to Stuttgart and Berlin) and shows in Moscow (1988) and Washington (1989). On a visit to Madrid in 1992, Bacon was hospitalized with pneumonia exacerbated by asthma and died on April 28.

After Bacon’s death many exhibitions devoted to his oeuvre were held. Among the most celebrated we can remember in 1996 Francis Bacon at the Musée National d’Art Modern, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and in 2008–2009, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, the traveling exhibition organized by the Tate Britain, then that by the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, and that one by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art

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