"An illustrational form tells you through the intelligence immediately what the form is about, whereas a non-illustrational form works first upon sensation and then slowly leaks back into the fact."
FRANCIS BACON SYNOPSIS
Francis Bacon produced some of the most iconic images of wounded and traumatized humanity in post-war art. Borrowing inspiration from, film, photography, and the Old Masters, he forged a distinctive style that made him one of the most widely recognized exponents of figurative art in the 1940s and 1950s. Bacon concentrated his energies on portraiture, often depicting habitues of the bars and clubs of London's Soho neighborhood. But his subjects were always portrayed as violently distorted, presented not as sociable and charismatic types but as isolated souls imprisoned and tormented by existential dilemmas. One of the most successful British painters of the twentieth century, Bacon's reputation was elevated further during the widespread return to painting in the 1980s, and after his death he was viewed by some as one of the world's most important painters.
FRANCIS BACON KEY IDEAS
MOST IMPORTANT ART
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
FRANCIS BACON BIOGRAPHY
Born in Dublin, Francis Bacon was named after his famous ancestor, the English philosopher and scientist. His father, Edward, served in the army and later took a job in the War Office during World War I. In an interview with critic David Sylvester, Bacon attributed the connotations of violence in his paintings to the turbulent circumstances of his early life. A British regiment was stationed near his childhood home, and he remembered constantly hearing soldiers practicing maneuvers. Naturally, his father's position in the War Office alerted him to the threat of violence at an early age. Returning to Dublin after the war, he came of age amidst the early campaigns of the Irish nationalist movement.
Young Francis had little formal education due to his severe asthma and the family's frequent traveling for Edward's post. Bacon's mother, Christina, lived the life of a socialite, and with his father away at work, Francis was often left to his own devices. Although he had four siblings, Bacon had a close relationship with his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who later came to live with him in London.
Family relations became increasingly tense as Bacon dealt with his emerging homosexuality. He was finally expelled from the house in 1926 after his father caught him trying on his mother's clothing. Surviving on a small allowance, Bacon lived the life of a vagrant, traveling around London, Berlin and Paris. Despite his father's hopes, the change of scenery only freed Bacon to further explore his sexual identity; his time Berlin proved particularly important in this regard and was later remembered by him as one of emotional awakening.
Bacon moved into a London apartment in the late 1920s and became involved with interior and furniture design. One of his patrons, the artist, became a mentor to Bacon and encouraged him to take up oil painting. Bacon modeled his early work after and the , whose work he had seen on a trip to Paris. In 1933, Bacon exhibited , a skeletal black and white composition that already radiated the overtones of pain and fear that would become typical of his later work. The painting was simultaneously published in book Art Now, and was quickly purchased by . Encouraged by his success, Bacon organized an exhibition of his own art the following year, but it received little attention. His paintings were also surveyed for inclusion in the International Surrealist Exhibition, organized by Herbert Read, but were rejected for not being surrealist enough. Discouraged, Bacon returned to a drifter's lifestyle and only painted sporadically between 1936 and 1944. He destroyed the majority of his work from before 1943, and only fifteen pieces from this early period have survived.
Due to his asthma, Bacon was unable to join the armed forces during WWII. He was accepted as a member of the Air Raid Precaution sector, which involved non-military search and rescue, only to be discharged when he fell ill from the dust and rubble. "If I hadn't been asthmatic, I might never have gone onto painting at all," he admitted. After the war, he took up painting with a renewed passion, regarding Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a(1944) as the true beginning of his work. The long necks, snapping mouths and contorted bodies featured in the painting express horror and suffering, a forceful commentary on the aftermath of the war. Bacon modeled the figures after photos of animals in motion, showing an early interest in the movement of the body that became a strong theme in his later painting. During its exhibition at Lefevre Gallery critics were mostly shocked by the blatant imagery, but the numerous reviews put Bacon into the spotlight.
His breakout success at the 1944 exhibition gained him further opportunities to show with Lefevre., a friend and fellow exhibitor, also recommended him to the director of Hanover Gallery, where Bacon had his first solo exhibition in 1949. For this show Bacon painted a series entitled Heads, significant for being the first series to introduce two important motifs: the first was the scream, derived from a film still drawn from Battleship Potemkin in which an injured schoolteacher is shown screaming [in pain?]; the second is Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c.1650), a painting Bacon only knew through reproductions (and which he would always maintain never to have seen in the original). The Heads series also made greater use of enclosing devices that suggest a pervasive sense of claustrophobia and anxiety, in this instance a shallow cage-like outline which Bacon had also employed in Three Studies from 1944.
In 1953, Hanover held an exhibition of Bacon's paintings that included, a depiction of two men embracing in bed, an image that created a huge scandal. The composition was based upon photographs of wrestlers taken by the Victorian photographer (1830-1904). Bacon preferred to work from photographs, relying on his friend John Deakin to take pictures of his subjects, but he was fascinated by Muybridge's attempts to capture and record bodies in motion. Bacon kept a collection of Muybridge's books in his studio as a constant source of reference, and even suggested that his intensive study of these sequential photographs triggered his own interest in working in series.
Bacon's tendency to derive inspiration from personal experiences also attracted him to portraiture. He often painted close friends (, , ), and the results convey a striking emotional and psychological intensity. One of Bacon's most famous subjects was his friend and lover , who he met in 1964. During the course of their relationship, Bacon executed numerous portraits of Dyer that juxtaposed a strong musculature with a feeling of vulnerability, as in (1966), suggesting an affectionate yet protective attitude toward the younger man. Dyer suffered from alcoholism and episodes of depression, ultimately committing suicide on the night before Bacon's first retrospective in France in 1971.
Late years and death
After the Paris exhibition Bacon moved increasingly toward self-portraiture, claiming, "people around me have been dying like flies and there is nothing else to paint but myself." Continuing to work steadily, he completed a number of paintings in tribute to Dyer's memory. Many of these took the form of large format triptychs, including the well-regarded "Black triptych" series that recounted the details of Dyer's passing. In 1973, Bacon became the first contemporary English artist to have a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His work was exhibited internationally throughout the later years of his life, including retrospectives at the Hirshhorn and the Tate Gallery. In the mid 1970s, Bacon met, who replaced both Dyer and Deakin as Bacon's constant companion and photographer. In his last years, Bacon retreated from his formerly boisterous social life, focusing on his work and the platonic relationship with Edwards. He died of a heart attack in Madrid at the age of 81.
FRANCIS BACON LEGACY
Bacon's unique interpretations and the intensely personal nature of his work make it difficult to visually trace his influence in contemporary art. Nevertheless, his paintings have inspired some of the most standout artists of this generation, includingand .
John Edwards, who inherited the estate, played an important role in promoting Bacon's work until his death in 2003. He was responsible for the donation of Bacon's studio to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, and this was turned into a permanent exhibition and research archive.
FRANCIS BACON QUOTES
"I'm greedy for life; and I'm greedy as an artist. I'm greedy for what I hope chance can give me far beyond anything I can calculate logically. And it's partly my greed that has made me what's called live by chance - greed for food, for drink, for being with the people one likes, for the excitement of things happening. So the same thing applies to one's work."
"I'm working for myself; what else have I got to work for? How can you work for an audience? What do you imagine an audience would want? I have got nobody to excite except myself, so I am always surprised if anyone likes my work sometimes. I suppose I'm very lucky, of course, to be able to earn my living by something that really absorbs me to try to do, if that is what you call luck."
"what once looked entirely of the moment has turned out to be timeless, and what once rang out like an individual cry of pain has been taken up, all over the world, as the first oboe's 'A natural' is taken up by the whole orchestra."
- speaking about Bacon's work