b. 1909, Ireland
d. 1992, Spain
Francis Bacon is considered one of the foremost figurative painters in the history of art. Bacon employed a distinctive visual language to deal with traditional art historical themes such as humanity and violence. He sought to paint the truth of the human condition.
Bacon was born in Dublin, his mother came from a wealthy family who had made their money in steel in Sheffield, while his father was a retired Army captain whose family claimed to be descendents of the philosopher and statesman, Francis Bacon (1561-1626). The artist experienced a fraught childhood and a strained relationship with his parents who did not agree with Baconís emerging homosexuality. He was told to leave the family home in 1926. Bacon went on to travel throughout London, Berlin and Paris, moving to London in the late 1920s.
The artistís chronic asthma meant that he did not receive a consistent formal education or formal art training. In 1944 Bacon painted Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Based on the Furies of The Oresteia by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, this work was considered by Bacon to mark the start of his career. This painting foretells formal and thematic elements that would become central to Baconís oeuvre. For example, the painting incorporates a screaming open mouth, distorted animalistic figures, the theme of the Crucifixion, a suggestion of violence and physical discomfort. The triptych format also alludes to Baconís interest in painting in series; presenting his work glazed and in gilded gold frames. When exhibited at Lefevre Gallery, the piece shocked viewers and bought the artist great attention. In 1949 he painted a series of Heads. This series incorporated important elements such as a scream and a papal figure; inspired by Sergei Eisensteinís Battleship Potemkin and Diego Velasquezís Portrait of Pope Innocent X. This series also illustrated the artistís use of space and rectangle; creating a sense of enclosure and anxious claustrophobia.
From the mid 1960s Bacon focused on creating intimate and emotional portraits of his friends, including Lucian Freud, Isabel Rawsthorne, Michel Leiris. George Dyer, Baconís partner since 1964 was his principal model for highly personal portraits. In 1971, the night before Baconís first retrospective in France, George Dyer committed suicide. From this point forward Baconís work became more introspective displaying a preoccupation with self-portraiture and death. The Black Triptychs were painted between 1972 -1974 and were a response to this tragic event. In the mid 1970s, the artist met John Edwards who became his friend, photographer and sole heir to his estate. In his later years Bacon refined and reduced his visual language, pairing down elements of the human body and using spray paint to create fine surfaces. Acclaimed works from Baconís late period include Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, 1984 and Study for Self-Portrait, Triptych, 1985-6. Both paintings have been described as having evoked an uncharacteristic sense of calm. In 1992 the artist died of a heart attack in Madrid aged 81.