Skip to main content
Select Source:

Bacon, Francis

Francis Bacon

Born: October 28, 1909
Dublin, Ireland
Died: April 28, 1992
Madrid, Spain

English painter and artist

The English artist Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful and original figure painters in the twentieth century. He was particularly noted for the obsessive intensity of his work.

Early life

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 28, 1909, to English parents. Raised with three siblings, Francis Bacon is a descendant of the sixteenth-century statesman and essayist of the same name. 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 (18811973). 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.

Bacon began oil painting in 1929. The few early paintings that survive (he destroyed most of them) show that he began as a late cubist (a twentieth-century movement that used geometric shapes). By 1932 he turned to a form of surrealism (using fantastic imagery of the subconscious) based partly on Pablo Picasso's works from about 1925 to 1928. Bacon began to draw attention in 1933 with his work Crucifixion, and the same year he took part in exhibitions in London.

Gains prominence after World War II

Bacon exhibited very rarely until 1945. It was only after World War II (193945; a war in which British, French, Soviet, and U.S. forces fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan) that his paintings became known outside his immediate circle of friends. At this time he also began to paint the human figure. The pictures that made his reputation are of such subjects as a melting head in front of a curtain and a screaming figure crouching under an umbrella. These extremely original works are impressive not only as powerful expressions of pain, but also for the magnificence of their presentation and professional quality.

By the early 1950s Bacon had developed a more direct treatment of the human figure, working almost always from photographs rather than from real life. Images taken from newspaper clippings or from the photographs of humans and animals by the nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge were sometimes combined with images from the well-recognized paintings of the old masters. For instance, a series of paintings inspired by the portrait of Pope Innocent X by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez (15991660) also uses a screaming face and eyeglasses that came from a close-up of a wounded nurse in Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin. Such a combination of images drawn from completely unrelated sources is characteristic of Bacon's work.

Major themes and subjects

From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life in the early 1990s, the consistent theme of his work was the isolation and pain of the individual, with a single figure (usually male) seated or standing in a small, windowless interior, as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were artists, friends, lovers, and even himself. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands, and dust along with paint and brush.

Bacon consistently denied that his paintings were used to explain his own life. The facts of his life, however, have tempted art critics and historians to draw links between his personal life and the subject matter of his paintings. One of the great tragedies of his life was the death of his longtime lover George Dyer, who apparently killed himself. Dyer's death occurred just before the opening of Bacon's major retrospective (a collection of the artist's work) in Paris, France, in 1971. Bacon's famous and moving Triptych (1973) was a three-paneled work of his dying friend hunched over a toilet, shadowed in a door frame and vomiting into a sink.

In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the few great representatives 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, New York, in 1984, Moscow, Russia, in 1989, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1990. Bacon died of heart failure in Madrid, Spain, on April 28, 1992.

The year 1999 saw the release of the book Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, which analyzed the work of the artist. The book coincided with a national tour of many of Bacon's paintings.

For More Information

Farson, Daniel. The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

Peppiatt, Michael. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

Schmied, Wieland. Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict. Munich: Prestel, 1996.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bacon, Francis." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bacon, Francis." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis

"Bacon, Francis." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

The English artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the most powerful and original figure painters in contemporary art, particularly noted for the obsessive intensity of his work.

Francis Bacon (a collateral descendant of the great Elizabethan statesman and essayist of the same name) was born in Dublin on October 28, 1909, to English parents. He left home at the age of 16, and after spending two years in Berlin and Paris he settled in London with the intention of establishing himself as an interior decorator and furniture designer. However, he soon gave up interior decorating for painting, in which he was self-taught. The few early paintings that survive (he destroyed most of them) show that he began as a late cubist and then turned by 1932 to an agonized form of surrealism based partly on Pablo Picasso's works of about 1925 to 1928.

Gains Prominence after World War II

Bacon exhibited very rarely until 1945, and it was only after World War II that his paintings became known outside his immediate circle of friends. At this time he also began to paint the human figure, subjecting it at first to weird distortions and combining it with bizarre and disturbing imagery. The pictures that made his reputation are of such subjects as a vaporizing head in front of a curtain and a screaming figure crouching under an umbrella. These startlingly original works are impressive not only as a powerful expression of anguish but also for the grandeur of their presentation and painterly quality.

By the early 1950s Bacon had developed a more direct treatment of the human figure, working almost always from photographs rather than from life. Images taken from newspaper clippings or from the photographs of humans and animals in movement by the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge were sometimes combined with borrowings from the well-recognized paintings of the old masters. For instance, a series of paintings inspired by the portrait of Pope Innocent X by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez also incorporate a screaming face and pince-nez derived from a close-up of a wounded nurse in Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin. Such a combination of motifs drawn from completely unrelated sources is very characteristic of Bacon's work. At the same time contemporary imagery is given a grandeur presentation akin to that of 16th-and 17th-century painting.

Major Themes and Subjects

From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life in the early 1990s, the recurrent theme of his work was the isolation and anguish of the individual, with a single figure (usually male) seated or standing in a claustrophobic, windowless interior as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were artists, friends, lovers, and even himself. Working without preliminary studies and relying to a great extent on improvisation, Bacon used expressive deformations to extract every nuance of feeling and tension. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands and whorls of dust along with paint and brush.

Although Bacon had consistently denied the illustrational nature of his paintings, the facts of his life have tempted art critics and historians to draw links between his personal life and the subject matter of his paintings. One of the great tragedies of his life was the death, an apparent suicide, of his long time lover George Dyer. Dyer's death, the result of ingesting large quantities of drugs and alcohol, occurred just before the opening of Bacon's major retrospective in Paris, France, in 1971. Bacon's famous and moving Triptych—May-June 1973, was a three-paneled work of his dying friend hunched fetus-like on a toilet, shadowed in a door frame and vomiting into a sink. While admitting this to be his most personal work, Bacon was still loath to allow its narrative nature, insisting that the panels be framed individually to avoid the impact of storytelling.

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. Bacon died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, Spain, on April 28, 1992.

Further Reading

Biographical and critical examinations of Bacon and his works include: Daniel Farson, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon (1993); Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (1997); Wieland Schmied, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict (1996); John Russell, Francis Bacon (1993); and Hugh Marlais Davies, Francis Bacon (1986). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Francis Bacon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Francis Bacon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/francis-bacon

"Francis Bacon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/francis-bacon

Bacon, Francis

Bacon, Francis (1909–92) English painter, one of the most controversial artists of his generation. In 1945 he changed the face of British painting when he exhibited his triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. The shock of the distorted representations of grieving people in his work stems from his violent handling of paint as much as from the subjects themselves. Precedents for Bacon's nightmarish scenes lie in the vengeful images of medieval doom paintings. The religious focus of his work continued in an astonishingly savage series of portraits of Roman Catholic popes. The protagonists of his pictures are usually set against a formless, blank background. For much of his life Bacon was shunned by the critical establishment.

http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/bacon; http://www.tate.org.uk; http://www.hughlane.ie

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bacon, Francis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bacon, Francis." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis-0

"Bacon, Francis." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis-0

Bacon, Francis (English painter)

Francis Bacon, 1910–92, English painter, b. Dublin. A self-taught artist, Bacon rejected abstraction in painting to explore a repertoire of strange, fractured, and often bizarre figurative images, many replete with homosexual, sadomasochistic, and fetishistic undertones. He became the center of a storm of controversy with his breakthrough painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944; Tate Gall., London), which portrayed carcasslike figures on crosses. He painted a series of variations on figural themes, e.g., Van Gogh Goes to Work,Velázquez's Innocent X. Often large in scale, Bacon's works, which frequently use photographs or printed materials as sources for their imagery, focus on shockingly grotesque and brutally satiric themes. From the 1950s—the era of his famously grim screaming popes—onward his images became increasingly distorted and abstract, sometimes merging human and animal forms.

See biographies by J. Russell (1979), A. Sinclair (1993), and M. Peppiatt (rev. ed. 2009); M. Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait: Essays and Interviews (2008); Francis Bacon: A Retrospective (1999); D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon (1975, repr. 1988), Francis Bacon: In Conversation with Michel Archimbaud (1993); studies by E. van Alphen (1993), W. Schmied (1996, tr. 2006), D. Sylvester (2000), G. Deleuze (2004), M. Harrison (2005), M. Peppiatt (2006), and R. Chiappini (2008); exhibition catalogs from Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. (1989) and Tate Museum, London, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ed. by M. Gale and C. Stephens (2008).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bacon, Francis (English painter)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bacon, Francis (English painter)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis-english-painter

"Bacon, Francis (English painter)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bacon-francis-english-painter