Dublin, 1909 - Madrid, 1992
Francis Bacon was born in Dublin on the 28th October 1909. He was the second of five children born to English parents settled in Ireland, but with no Irish blood ties.
Berlin was Bacon’s first overwhelming cultural experience. It may have been in Berlin that Bacon first saw Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). Its full impact on the young man would not surface for several decades.
He later moved to France, where the contemplation of Nicholas Poussin’s painting The Massacre of the Innocents (ca. 1628–29) was a seminal moment that marked a turning point for Bacon: the image of a screaming mother trying to protect her infant left him one indelible memory.
After visiting an exhibition of drawings by Picasso at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg, París, Bacon— who had no formal training— began to produce drawings and watercolors in the summer of 1927.
Back in London he began to produce his first oil paintings. Australian painter Roy de Maistre guided Bacon in his first steps providing him with tips to enhance his oil painting technique. Among Bacon’s earliest patrons was Eric Allden, a well-off man who had an intimate affair with the artist for two years. His place was taken by a married man, Eric Hall, who supported Bacon until about 1950.
Bacon painted his first truly original work, Crucifixion, in 1933, a small spectral painting that was purchased by collector Sir Michael Sadler.
In the summer of 1936 his work was rejected by the International Surrealist Exhibition in London on the grounds that it was "insufficiently surreal."
In late 1943 Bacon moved into the ground floor of 7 Cromwell Place, South Kensington. It was in this space that Bacon completed Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), a painting that finally granted him international renown.
Bacon remained with Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery from 1948 until 1958.
Head I (1948), with its restricted palette of greys and blacks established an ideal precedent and his subsequent works were painted on the unprimed or “wrong” side of the canvas. He found the raw canvas held the paint with more bite, enhanced texture, and allowed thinner applications to soak into the canvas. He continued painting on the unprimed side till the end of his life.
One painting stood apart from its companions in the 1949 exhibition at the Hanover Gallery. This was Head VI (1949), with its sensuous purple cape. It was a variation on Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), a theme he mined with obsessive intensity throughout the following decade and intermittently in the 1960s, although his experience of the work by Velázquez was entirely by way of reproductions.
In 1951 and again in 1952 Bacon sailed out to South Africa where his mother had moved after his father’s death. The artist was struck by the sight of wild animals. On one of his voyages back to England, he stopped off for a couple of days in Cairo. Bacon held ancient Egyptian art in high regard and later asserted that its achievements had been unsurpassed.
Bacon had also had begun to tackle the nude in a more forthright manner. In his painting Two Figures (1953), the poses were based on Eadweard Muybridge’s book The Human Figure in Motion (1901), images that Bacon transformed to convey more personal and sexual meanings.
In 1954 he exhibited with Ben Nicholson and Lucian Freud in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
First solo show in New York at Durlacher Brothers Gallery in 1953 and also his first in Paris, at the Galerie Rive Droite in 1957.
In 1956, on the way to Morocco, he visited for the first time the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
By 1957 Bacon’s painting was undergoing a transformation in the pictorial technique and handling of color. In his paintings he was inspired by Van Gogh’s, the Céret works of Chaïm Soutine, and the bright light of Morocco. It was a decisive break with the ghostly forms and somber backgrounds of the first half of the 1950s, and a permanent one.
He signed a contract in October 1958 with Marlborough Fine Art.
In 1961, he took over 7 Reece Mews, a converted coach house in South Kensington that was to be the most important place in his life. He produced there his first large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962).
Towards the end of 1963 a new man entered Bacon’s life, George Dyer, who became a recurrent subject of Bacon’s paintings in the 1960s. Photography became an indispensable means to Bacon’s expressive ends, mainly through John Deakin’s photographs of Dyer and other close friends.
In 1966 Bacon enthusiastically described the paintings in the Cave of Altamira in Cantabria, Spain.
His friend, Alberto Giacometti, was one of the few living artists for whom Bacon had great respect.
Two nights before the opening of Bacon’s retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, in 1971, Dyer was found dead from a drink and barbiturate overdose. A series of paintings records the true strength of Bacon’s grief.
Bacon spent considerable periods of time in Paris during the 1970s, and took a studio there in 1975.
In the mid-1970s he met John Edwards, a good looking Eastender—Bacon’s relationship with him was essentially a paternal one. John Edwards bequeathed the entire contents of the studio of 7 Reece Mews to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, the city where Bacon was born.
In 1978 he presented his work by the first time in Spain at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid and at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.
Solo exhibitions and retrospectives of Bacon’s work were held around the world, such as those in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya in 1983 and in Washington DC in 1989.
He met the challenge of painting landscapes again and simplified his pictorial language, paring it down to its essentials.
In his last years and in declining health, he enjoyed a passionate relationship with a cultivated young Spaniard, whom he had met in 1987. In 1990 he visited Velázquez’s retrospective at the Prado Museum. In 1992 Bacon made a trip to Madrid and within days of arrival he fell critically ill and was hospitalized. He suffered a heart attack and died on April 28.