Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was born in Dublin, Ireland, to English parents, and came to be regarded as one of Britain’s most important post-war artists.
His early years were spent between Ireland and England, but as a child he suffered from severe asthma, which keep him from the normal schooling system and meant that he had to be tutored from home. It was perhaps these early formative experiences that informed his work, which often deals with themes of isolation and suffering.
Bacon’s parents struggled to accept his sexuality, which led to him leaving home at 17 to travel to Berlin, and then Paris. Both of these cities provided the perfect environment for him to thrive personally and as an artist- with a plentitude of intellectuals, galleries, and an established gay scene.
In the late 20s, he returned to London where he tried his hand at decorating, and designing furniture and interiors. It was during this time that Bacon first started to paint, experimenting with both cubist and surrealist practices. His interesting observations and particular self-taught style created intrigued in 1937 was invited to show work in a London group exhibition ‘Young British Painters’.
Bacon began painting larger works in the 1940s, during which time he completely devoted himself to painting more intensely than before. His pieces were often quite dark in both tone and subject matter - depicting loneliness, and alienation of individuals in either in cages or set against black backgrounds. His use of rough brush strokes can also be seen to reflect the turbulent times of European politics during which he worked.
Some of his most remembered pieces were inspired by the artist Velázquez, whom he followed in depicting the Pope, but his face distorted to disturbing effect- a stylistic signature that was to reoccur through his career. These works came to be known as Bacon's "Screaming Pope" paintings.
Bacon did not shy away from creating powerful visions of difficult viewing, often using imagery such as a flayed carcass of meat to draw out ideas of suffering and torment.
Though abstraction was rife in art practice during the height of Bacon’s career, he maintained his passion for figurative painting and portraits. His impressively distinctive brushwork and aesthetic has proved inspiration for generations of artists since, who look to him as an artist who perfectly depicts some of the more difficult universal themes of human experience - the troubled society painfully aware of its mortality.
Whether it was art imitating life, or life imitating art, Bacon’s personal life proved as dark and turbulent as his artworks. He suffered through his friendships and relationships, first with his parents, but none more so than his relationship with George Dyer who framed him for drug possession and eventually committed suicide.
However, none of this was to his detriment as an important art-historic figure; in modernity his name has become as culturally relevant, if not perhaps more so, than his 17th Century philosopher ancestor, Francis Bacon.
Bacon’s work is held in collections by major museums and galleries around the world, and his studio has been preserved for visitors to view, recreated as it was by the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
Moreover, in 2013, ‘Three Studies of Lucien Freud’ realised a hammer price of $142.4 million at Christie's in New York, breaking the record at the time for the most expensive work ever sold at auction.
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