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Francis Bacon

British Painter

Born: October 28, 1909 - Dublin, Ireland

Died: April 28, 1992 - Madrid, Spain

Francis Bacon Timeline

Important Art by Francis Bacon

The below artworks are the most important by Francis Bacon - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Crucifixion (1933)
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Crucifixion (1933)

Artwork description & Analysis: Crucifixion is the work that first launched Bacon into the public eye, long before the much greater successes of the post-war years. The painting may have been inspired by Rembrandt's Slaughtered Ox (c.1638), but also by Picasso's Surrealist style(perhaps sensing this latter connection, Herbert Read, in his book Art Now, illustrated Crucifixion adjacent to a Picasso Bather). The translucent whiteness painted over the bodily frame in Crucifixion adds a ghostly touch to an already unsettling composition,introducing Bacon's obsession with pain and fear. Exhibited at a time when the horrors of the First World War were still remembered, Crucifixion spoke of how brutality had changed the world forever. At the time of writing the picture is owned by Damien Hirst, an artist who has acknowledged a large debt to Bacon.

- Murderme collection, London

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944)
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Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944)

Artwork description & Analysis: Three Studies launched Bacon's reputation in the mid 1940s and shows the importance of biomorphic Surrealism in forging his early style. Bacon may have originally intended to incorporate the figures in a crucifixion, but his reference to the base of such a composition suggests that he imagined them as part of a predella, the scenes at the bottom of a traditional altarpiece. The twisted bodies are all the more frightening for their vaguely familiar human-like forms, which appear to stretch out toward the viewer in pain and supplication. The perspective lines in the background create a shallow space,alluding to captivity and torture. The figures are based upon the Furies, goddesses of revenge from Greek mythology that play an important role in the Oresteia, a three-part tragedy by Aeschylus. Bacon may have been drawn to the play's themes of guilt and obsession. The piece profoundly influenced images of the body in post-war British art.

Oil on board - Tate Gallery, London

Painting (1946)
Artwork Images

Painting (1946)

Artwork description & Analysis: The layered images of this enigmatic painting blend into each other, giving it a dreamlike (or nightmarish)quality. From the top, the outstretched wings of a bird skeleton seem to be perched upon a hanging carcass, the latter motif influenced, like Bacon's Crucifixion from 1933, by Rembrandt. In the foreground, a well-dressed man under an umbrella sits in a circular enclosure which might be decorated with more bones and another carcass. The strange, collage-like composition of this work reveals Bacon's method. "The one like a butcher's shop, it came to me as an accident," he once said of the picture. "I was attempting to make a bird alighting on a field. And it may have been bound up in some way with the three forms that had gone before, but suddenly the lines that I'd drawn suggested something totally different, and out of this suggestion rose the picture. I had no intention to do this picture; I never thought of it in that way. It was like one continuous accident mounting on top of another."

Oil and pastel on linen - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953)
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Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: Although the figure in this picture derives from a 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velazquez, Bacon avoided viewing the original painting,preferring to work from reproductions. Once again, he deploys a cage-like frame that surrounds the pope, but also introduces vertical brushing across the surface of the painting, an element he described as a curtain, relating the figure to a precious object requiring a protected space.However, the linear strokes are destructive to the image, and seem more like the bars of a jail cell. The lines almost seem to vibrate, and complementary shades of purple and yellow add to the tension of the composition. About his famous scream,Bacon says, "I didn't do it in the way that I wanted to.... I wanted to make the mouth, with its beauty of its color and everything, look like one of the sunsets or something of Monet."

Oil on canvas - Des Moines Art Center, Iowa

Two Figures (1953)
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Two Figures (1953)

Artwork description & Analysis: Due to its homosexual overtones, the inaugural exhibition of Two Figures caused an uproar. Drawn from studies of anatomical drawings and Eadweard Muybridge's motion photography, Two Figures is as much an exploration of the body in action as it is a representation of the physical act of love.The two figures entwined in bed are covered by Bacon's"curtain" of striated lines, which both obstructs the view and enhances the movement of the figures. Instead of evoking the romance of a nighttime rendezvous, the dark colors of the painting allude to a more sinister encounter.

Oil on canvas - Private collection, London

Portrait of George Dyer Crouching (1966)
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Portrait of George Dyer Crouching (1966)

Artwork description & Analysis: Bacon was in his 60s when he met the young George Dyer.Their relationship, although romantic, always had the sense of a father-son dynamic. Dyer was constantly in need of attention and reassurance, and the naked embryonic form kneeling precariously on a ledge expresses his vulnerability.The circular sofa, however, surrounds him in a protective embrace. Uncharacteristically, the coloring is light and subdued, although the red and green highlights hint at an inner struggle. Dyer suffered from a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol, which is alluded to by the painted figure looking downward into a central abyss.

Oil on canvas - Private collection



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Related Art and Artists

The Old Guitarist (1903)
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The Old Guitarist (1903)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: The Old Guitarist is characteristic of the somber melancholy of Picasso's Blue Period, and it was produced at the same time as a series of other pictures devoted to themes of destitution, old age, and blindness. The picture conveys something of Picasso's concern with the miserable conditions he witnessed while coming of age in Spain, and it is no doubt influenced by the religious painting he grew up with, and perhaps specifically by El Greco. But the picture is also typical of the wider Symbolist movement of the period. In later years Picasso dismissed his Blue Period works as "nothing but sentiment"; critics have often agreed with him, even though many of these pictures are iconic, and of course, unbelievably expensive.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Carcass of Beef (1925)

Carcass of Beef (1925)

Artist: Chaim Soutine

Artwork description & Analysis: Here, Soutine cunningly portrayed the beef split open, as if bearing its soul to the viewer. Soutine's repeated use of animal carcasses as the subject matter for still life paintings likely stems from his complex relationship with food and his adoration of the work of Rembrandt. During his repeated visits to the Louvre, Soutine pondered the old master's Slaughtered Ox, which bears a strong resemblance to Carcas of Beef(1655). Unlike Rembrandt, Soutine isolated the subject and employed an unusual method in the creation of this still life. After hanging the side of beef bought at a Parisian slaughterhouse in his studio, he had his assistant fetch a bucket of fresh cow's blood every few days and, while painting this work, Soutine would repeatedly pour blood over the carcass to ensure it maintained the bright color of freshly cut beef. Meanwhile, his assistant fanned away flies and neighbors complained to the police about the smell, even causing health inspectors to almost cart the beef away. Luckily his assistant intervened, as Soutine was far too engrossed in painting, and the artist was allowed to finish what is largely regarded as his masterpiece. The very visceral image of Soutine pouring blood over the carcass, as well as rapidly applying layer after layer of liquid paint to the canvas, recalls the later action painting of the mid-twentieth century. A direct link to this painting can be found in the work of Francis Bacon, which reflects the dark, emotional turmoil of Soutine as well as the use of anthropomorphized beef to reveal the artist's psyche.

Oil on canvas - The Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Bathers by a River (1917)
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Bathers by a River (1917)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse regarded this picture as one of the most important in his career, and it is certainly one of his most puzzling. He worked on it at intervals over eight years, and it passed through a variety of transformations. The painting evolved out of a commission from Matisse's Russian patron, Sergei Shchuckin, for two decorative panels on the subjects of dance and music, and, initially, the scheme for the picture resembled the idyllic scenes he had previously depicted in paintings such as Joy of Life (1905-06). However, his transformations gradually turned it into more of a confrontation with Cubism, and it is for this reason that the picture has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Although Matisse rejected Cubism, he certainly felt challenged by it, and this picture - along with many he painted from 1913 to 1917 - seems to be influenced by the style, since it is very unlike his previous, more decorative work. It is far more concerned with faithful representation of the structure of the human figure, and its position in space. The painting might be compared to The Backs series (1909-31), which also preoccupied Matisse the years he was working on Bathers, since both address the problem of depicting a three-dimensional figure against a flat background.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

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