Francis Bacon, like his friend Lucian Freud, kept British figurative painting alive and fresh in a period when abstract and conceptual art were increasingly dominant. His tortured figures were born out of the influence of Picasso and
Bacon was born in Dublin of English parents in 1909. His father, a retired Army Major was set on a career as a horse breeder and trainer. Bacon’s childhood was unsettled, living in several country houses in Ireland and in England, disrupted by the Irish Rising and later civil war. His emerging homosexuality led to estrangement from his father, apart from a misguided attempt to ‘reform’ him with a trip to Berlin, which
Returning to London in 1928, Bacon set up as an interior decorator and designer, apparently without any training or experience. He was helped by a few patrons and artists such as Roy de Maistre, and in 1933 created a stir with his first significant work, Crucifixion, which was reproduced in Herbert Read’s Art Now and purchased by an important collector. It was a false start for Bacon, however. His work was rejected by the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London as ‘insufficiently surreal’, though included in an exhibition of 10 ‘Young British Painters’ in 1937. One of these was Figures in a Garden.
Bacon served in civil
A 1949 solo exhibition included the first of over 30 adaptations of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X made in the 1950s and 1960s – often fusing the image with the screaming nurse in Eisenstein’s 1925 expressionist film Battleship Potemkin, as in Head VI (above).
Another graphic source was Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic exploration, The Human Figure in Motion, from which were derived the grappling naked figures of several works made from the early 1950s, such as Figures in a Landscape. This period saw the death of his much-loved nanny, extensive
In 1961 Bacon settled into a studio in South Kensington that would be his base for the rest of his life. Gradually filled with an unhealthy accumulation of paint, solvents, rags, torn photographs and illustrations, and dust, it was to be meticulously recreated in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery after his death. The new studio produced his first new, large-scale Crucifixion triptych, nearly two
In the early 1970s, a series of such ‘black triptychs’ formed a tribute to one of Bacon’s unreliable lovers, the pretty thief
Andrew Greg, National Inventory Research Project, University of Glasgow