Francis Bacon was one of the most controversial and extravagant artists of the 20th century, known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged and raw imagery. Irish-born, he grew up in a nursing home in Dublin to parents of English descent. Bacon had a curious, to say the least, family background. Eddy, his father, was a veteran of the Boer War, and a racehorse trainer, while his mother, Winnie, was heiress to a Sheffield steel business and a coal mine. It is believed his father was a direct descendant of Sir Nicholas Bacon, half brother of Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan statesman and his great-great grandmother, Lady Charlotte Harley was intimately acquainted with Lord Byron.
The family changed houses often, moving between Ireland and England, which led him to feel somewhat displaced throughout his lifetime. As a child, Bacon was shy and enjoyed dressing up, a fact that upset his father. Once he was found admiring himself in front of a large mirror dressed in his mother’s underwear. He obviously had a difficult relationship with his father and this led to him being thrown out of the family home and having to do odd jobs to earn a living. Eventually he moved to Berlin for two months in 1927 where two films, Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ had a profound effect on his artistic imagination.
Up to the early 1930s Bacon moved from job to job and place to place, doing some commissioned work in interior and furniture design and it was not until 1933 that ‘Crucifixion’, a painting partly based on Picasso’s ‘Three Dancers’, gave him some public acclaim. However, he gave up painting for almost a decade. In 1946 he painted one of his most well-known works, ‘Painting’, which was exhibited at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. He went on to paint ‘Head I, II, III, IV, V and VI’, the latter being another of his famous works.
His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych, ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, which marked a significant advance at the time and of which John Russell observed that ‘there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one can confuse the two’. Bacon said that he saw images ‘in series’, and his artistic output typically focussed on a single subject or format for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats.
Bacon’s work can be described as sequences or variations on a single motif beginning with Picasso-influenced ‘Furies’ in the 1930s, the male heads of the 40s, the 1950s screaming popes and animal figures and the 1960s variations on crucifixion scenes. From the mid 60s, he painted mainly friends and following his lover’s death in 1971, his work almost solely dealt with the passage of time and death.
Despite his apparently sober outlook on life, he was a highly engaging, talkative and charismatic man with many good friends in and out of the art world. He was a ‘love him or hate him artist’ during his lifetime and he is widely considered to be, along with Willem de Kooning, one of the most influencial artists of our time. Since his death in Madrid in 1992, his reputation and market value have surged and his work reaches high prices at auctions. On 12th November 2013, his ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ set a world record at an auction, as it was sold for over $ 142 million, only to be surpassed by a Picasso some months later.
Happy English learning!!