Francis Bacon (artist)

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Francis Bacon photographed in the early 1980s.

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged and raw imagery.[1] His painterly abstracted figures are typically isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon took up painting in his early 20s but worked sporadically and uncertainly until his mid-30s. Unsure of his ability, he drifted as a highly complex bon vivant, homosexual, gambler and interior decorator and designer of furniture, rugs and bathroom tiles. He later admitted that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest.[2]

His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, sealed his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. Remarking on the cultural significance of Three Studies, John Russell observed that "there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one...can confuse the two."[3]

Bacon said that he saw images "in series", and his artistic output typically focused on a single subject or format for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats.[4] His output can be crudely described as sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1930s Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures. These were followed by his early 1960s variations on crucifixion scenes. From the mid-1960s he mainly produced portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover George Dyer, his art became more somber, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death.[5] The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including his 1982's "Study for Self-Portrait" and Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person was highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and unapologetically gay. He was a prolific artist, but nonetheless spent many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud (though the two fell out in the 1950s, for reasons neither ever explained), John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson and Jeffrey Bernard. After Dyer's suicide he largely distanced himself from this circle, and while his social life was still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continued, he settled into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards.

Bacon was equally reviled and acclaimed during his lifetime. Art critic Robert Hughes described him as "the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world"[6] and along with Willem de Kooning as "the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50's of the 20th century."[7] Francis Bacon was the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais. Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is amongst the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed,[8] including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerged to set record prices at auction. On 12 November 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud set the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction, selling for $142,405,000,[9] until exceeded by the sale of a Picasso in May 2015.[10]

Early life

Bacon's birthplace at 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin

Francis Bacon was born in a nursing home in the heart of old Georgian Dublin at 63 Lower Baggot Street,[11] to parents of English descent.[12] His father, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer ("Eddy") Bacon was born in Adelaide, South Australia to an English father and an Australian mother.[13] Eddy was a veteran of the Boer War, and a racehorse trainer and his mother, Christina Winifred "Winnie" Firth was heiress to a Sheffield steel business and coal mine. It is believed his father was a direct descendant of Sir Nicholas Bacon, elder half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan statesman, philosopher and essayist.[12] His great-great-grandmother, Lady Charlotte Harley, was intimately acquainted with Lord Byron, who called her "Ianthe", and dedicated his poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, to her.[14] When Bacon's paternal grandfather was given the chance to revive the title of Lord Oxford by Queen Victoria, he refused for financial reasons.[14] He had an older brother, Harley,[15] two younger sisters, Ianthe and Winifred, and a younger brother, Edward. He was raised by the family nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, from Cornwall, known as 'Nanny Lightfoot', and who remained close to him until her death. Lightfoot was a mother figure for Bacon. In the 1940s, she aided him in keeping gambling houses in London.

The family changed houses often, moving back and forth between Ireland and England several times, leading to a feeling of displacement remained with the artist throughout his life. In 1911 the family lived in Cannycourt House[15] near Kilcullen, County Kildare, but later moved to Westbourne Terrace in London, close to where Bacon's father worked at the Territorial Force Records Office. They returned to Ireland after World War I. Bacon lived with his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, Winifred and Kerry Supple, at Farmleigh, Abbeyleix, County Laois, though the family again moved to Straffan Lodge near Naas, County Kildare; his mother's place of birth.

Bacon as a child was shy, and enjoyed dressing up. This, coupled with his effeminate manner, upset his father. A story emerged in 1992[16] of his father having had Francis horsewhipped by their groom. In 1924 his parents moved to Gloucestershire, first to Prescott House in Gotherington, then Linton Hall near the border with Herefordshire. At a fancy-dress party at the Firth family home, Cavendish Hall in Suffolk, Francis dressed as a flapper with an Eton crop, beaded dress, lipstick, high heels, and a long cigarette holder. In 1926, the family moved back to Straffan Lodge. His sister, Ianthe, twelve years his junior, recalled that Bacon made drawings of ladies with cloche hats and long cigarette holders.[17] Later that year, Francis was thrown out of Straffan Lodge following an incident in which his father found him admiring himself in front of a large mirror draped in his mother's underwear.

London, Berlin and Paris

Bacon spent the latter half of 1926 in London, living on an allowance of £3 a week from his mother's trust fund, while reading Nietzsche. Although destitute, Bacon found that by avoiding rent and engaging in petty theft, he could survive. To supplement his income, he briefly tried his hand at domestic service, but although he enjoyed cooking, he became bored and resigned. He was sacked from a telephone answering position at a shop selling women's clothes in Poland Street, Soho, after writing a poison pen letter to the owner. Bacon found himself drifting through London's homosexual underworld, aware that he was able to attract a certain type of rich man, something he was quick to take advantage of, having developed a taste for good food and wine. One was a relative of Winnie, another a breeder of racehorses, Harcourt-Smith, who was renowned for his manliness. Bacon claimed his father had asked this "uncle" to take him 'in-hand' and 'make a man of him'. Francis had a difficult relationship with his father, once admitting to being sexually attracted to him.

In 1927 Bacon moved to Berlin, where he saw Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, later catalysts of his artistic imagination.

Bacon spent two months in Berlin, though Harcourt-Smith left after one – "He soon got tired of me, of course, and went off with a woman ... I didn't really know what to do, so I hung on for a while, and then, since I'd managed to keep a bit of money, I decided to go to Paris." Bacon then spent the next year and a half in Paris. He met Yvonne Bocquentin, pianist and connoisseur, at the opening of an exhibition. Aware of his own need to learn French, Bacon lived for three months with Madame Bocquentin and her family at their house near Chantilly. He travelled into Paris to visit the city's art galleries.[18] At the Château de Chantilly (Musée Condé) he saw Nicolas Poussin's Massacre of the Innocents, a painting which he often referred to in his own later work. From Chantilly, he went to an exhibition that inspired him to take up painting.

Return to London

Bacon returned to London late in 1928 or early 1929, and took up work as an interior designer. He found a studio at 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington, and shared the upper floor with Eric Alden – who became his first collector – and his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. Bacon advertised himself as a "gentleman's companion" in The Times, on the front page (then reserved for personal messages and insertions).[19] Among the many answers carefully vetted by Nanny Lightfoot was one from an elderly cousin of Douglas Cooper, owner of one of the finest collections of modern art in England. The gentleman, having paid Bacon for his services, found him part-time work as a telephone operator in a London club and sought Cooper's help in promoting Bacon's developing skill as a designer of furniture and interiors. Cooper commissioned a desk from Bacon in battleship grey around this time.

In 1929 while working at the telephone exchange at the Bath Club on Dover Street he met Eric Hall who became his patron and lover in an often torturous relationship. Bacon's first show in the winter of 1929, at Queensberry Mews, was of his carpet rugs and furniture. It may have included Painted screen (ca. 1929–1930) and Watercolour (1929) his earliest surviving painting, which seems to have evolved from his rug designs, in turn influenced by the paintings and tapestries of Jean Lurçat. Sydney Butler (daughter of Samuel Courtauld and wife of Rab Butler) commissioned a glass and steel table and a set of stools for the dining room of her Smith Square house. Bacon's Queensberry Mews studio was featured in the August 1930 issue of The Studio magazine, in a double page article entitled "The 1930 Look in British Decoration". The piece showed work including a large round mirror, some rugs and tubular steel and glass furniture largely influenced by the International Style.

Bacon left the Queensberry Mews West studio in 1931, and had no settled space for some years. Bacon probably shared a studio with Roy de Maistre, circa 1931/32, at Carlyle Studios (just off the Kings Road) in Chelsea. Portrait (1932) and Portrait (ca. 1931–1932) (the latter bought by Diana Watson) both show a round-faced youth with diseased skin (painted after Bacon saw Ibsen's Ghosts), and date from a brief stay in a studio on the Fulham Road. In 1932, Bacon was commissioned by Gladys MacDermot, an Irish woman who had lived in Australia, to redesign much of the decoration and furniture of her flat at 98 Ridgmount Gardens in Bloomsbury. Bacon recalled that she was "always filling me up with food".

Furniture and rugs

A baby in a carriage falling down the "Odessa Steps"

The 1933 Crucifixion was his first painting to attract public attention, and was in part based on Pablo Picasso's Three Dancers of 1925. However it was not well received and disillusioned, Bacon abandoned painting for nearly a decade, and suppress his earlier works.[20] He visited Paris in 1935 where he bought a secondhand book on diseases of the mouth containing high quality hand-coloured plates of both open mouths and oral interiors, which haunted and obsessed him for the remainder of his life. In 1935 he saw Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin,[21] the scene of the nurse screaming on the Odessa steps later becoming a major theme in his paintings, with the angularity of Eisenstein's image often combined with the thick red palette of his recently purchased medical tome.

In winter of 1935–36, Roland Penrose and Herbert Read, making a first selection for the International Surrealist Exhibition, visited his studio at 71 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, saw "three or four large canvases including one with a grandfather clock", but found his work "insufficiently surreal to be included in the show". Bacon claimed Penrose told him "Mr. Bacon, don't you realise a lot has happened in painting since the Impressionists?". In 1936 or 1937 Bacon moved from 71 Royal Hospital Road to the top floor of 1 Glebe Place, Chelsea, which Eric Hall had rented. The following year, Patrick White moved to the top two floors of the building where de Maistre had his studio, on Eccleston Street, and commissioned from Bacon, by now a friend, a writing desk (with wide drawers and a red linoleum top). White bought the glass and steel dining table from Rab and Sydney Butler.

In January 1937, at Thomas Agnew and Sons, 43 Old Bond Street, London, Bacon exhibited in a group show, Young British Painters, which included Graham Sutherland, Victor Pasmore and Roy de Maistre. Eric Hall, also a friend of Jerry Agnew, organised the show; Agnew's was then known for shows of Old Master paintings. Four works by Bacon were shown: Figures in a Garden (1936), purchased by Diana Watson; Abstraction, and Abstraction from the Human Form, known from magazine photographs (they prefigure Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) in variously having a tripod structure (Abstraction), bared teeth (Abstraction from the Human Form), and both being biomorphic in form); Seated Figure is lost.

On 1 June 1940 Bacon's father died. Bacon was named sole Trustee/Executor of his father's will, which requested the funeral be as "private and simple as possible". Unfit for active wartime service, Francis volunteered for civil defence and worked full-time in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) rescue service; the fine dust of bombed London worsened his asthma and he was discharged. At the height of the Blitz, Eric Hall rented a cottage for Bacon and himself at Bedales Lodge in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire. Figure Getting Out of a Car (ca. 1939/1940) was painted here but is known only from an early 1946 photograph taken by Peter Rose Pulham. The photograph was taken shortly before the canvas was painted over by Bacon and retitled Landscape with Car. An ancestor to the biomorphic form of the central panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), the composition was suggested by a photograph of Hitler getting out of a car at one of the Nuremberg rallies. Bacon claims to have "copied the car and not much else".

Returning from Hampshire at the latter part of 1943, Bacon and Hall took the ground floor of 7 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, John Everett Millais' old house and studio. High vaulted and north lit, its roof was recently bombed – Bacon was able to adapt a large old billiard room at the back of the house as his studio. Nanny Lightfoot, lacking an alternative location, slept on the kitchen table. Illicit roulette parties were held there, organised by Bacon with the assistance of Hall, to the financial benefit of both.

Early success

File:Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.jpg
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. Oil and pastel on Sundeala board. Tate Britain, London

By 1946 Bacon had confidently arrived; his "Three Studies" summarises themes explored in Bacon's previous paintings, including his examination of Picasso's biomorphs and his interpretations of the Crucifixion and the Greek Furies. Bacon did not[22] realise his original intention to paint a large crucifixion scene and place the figures at the foot of the cross.[23] It is generally considered Bacon's first mature piece;[24] he regarded his works before the triptych as irrelevant, and throughout his life tried to suppress their appearance on the art market. When the painting was first exhibited in 1945 it caused a sensation and helped to establish him as one of the foremost post-war painters. Remarking on the cultural significance of Three Studies, the critic John Russell observed in 1971 that "there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one ... can confuse the two."[3]

Painting (1946) was shown in several group shows including in the British section of Exposition internationale d'art moderne (18 November – 28 December 1946) at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, for which Bacon travelled to Paris. Within a fortnight of the sale of Painting (1946) to the Hanover Gallery Bacon used the proceeds to decamp from London to Monte Carlo. After staying at a succession of hotels and flats, including the Hôtel de Ré, Bacon settled in a large villa, La Frontalière, in the hills above the town. Hall and Lightfoot would come to stay. Bacon spent much of the next few years in Monte Carlo apart from short visits to London. From Monte Carlo, Bacon wrote to Graham Sutherland and Erica Brausen. His letters to Brausen show he painted there, but no paintings are known to survive.

In 1948, Painting (1946) sold to Alfred Barr for the Museum of Modern Art in New York for £240. Bacon wrote to Sutherland asking that he apply fixative to the patches of pastel on Painting (1946) before it was shipped to New York. Painting (1946) is now too fragile to be moved from MoMA for exhibition elsewhere. At least one visit to Paris in 1946 brought Bacon into more immediate contact with French postwar painting and Left Bank ideas such as Existentialism.[25] He had, by this time, embarked on his lifelong friendship with Isabel Rawsthorne, a painter closely involved with Giacometti and the Left Bank set. They shared many interests including ethnography and classical literature.[26]

Late 1940s

Bacon returned to London and Cromwell Place late in 1948. Head I was shown at the Summer Exhibition at the Redfern gallery from July to September 1948. The following spring Head I was displayed at the Hanover Gallery. Between 8 November and 10 December 1949 at the Hanover Gallery, Francis Bacon: Paintings; Robert Ironside: Coloured Drawings, was his first one-man show. It included Head I to Head VI, Study from the Human Body (1949) and Study for Portrait (1949) and four other paintings. Bacon's work attracted the support of Wyndham Lewis writing in The Listener. "The Hanover [Gallery] Show is of exceptional importance. Of the younger painters none actually paints so beautifully as Francis Bacon", Lewis wrote, adding: "Bacon is one of the most powerful artists in Europe today and he is perfectly in tune with his time".[27] The following year he wrote of another exhibition: "Three large new canvases by Bacon prove him once more to be the most astonishingly sinister artist in England, and one of the most original".[28] Head II is, for Bacon, very thickly painted, one of few instances when he had been able to 'rescue' a painting after it had become overworked and the weave of the canvas clogged[29] (as happened with two abandoned works on canvas from the Head series, from 1949, also in the 1949 Hanover show). The arrow, or pointer, motif in Head II is taken from the book Positioning in Radiography by Kathleen Clara Clark, 1939.

Head VI is Bacon's first surviving engagement with Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (three 'popes' were painted in Monte Carlo in 1946 but were destroyed). The Cobalt Violet mozzetta, crimson in Velázquez's painting, may reflect Bacon's use of printed reproductions of the painting. Bacon said that although he admired "the magnificent colour" of the Velázquez, Velázquez "wanted to make it as much like a Titian as possible but, in a curious way he cooled Titian".


The Colony Room was a private drinking club at 41 Dean Street in Soho, also known as Muriel's after Muriel Belcher, its formidable proprietor. Belcher, who had run a club called the Music-box in Leicester Square during the war, had secured a 3 – 11pm drinking licence for the Colony Room bar as a private-members club; public houses had to, by law, close at 2:30 pm. Bacon was a founding member, joining the day after its opening in 1948. He was 'adopted' by Belcher as a 'daughter', and allowed free drinks and £10 a week to bring in friends and rich patrons.

John Minton in 1948. Minton became a regular at Muriel's, as were the painters Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Patrick Swift and the sometime Vogue photographer, John Deakin. In 1950, Bacon met the art critic David Sylvester, best known for his writing on Henry Moore and praise for Alberto Giacometti's work. Sylvester had admired and written about his work, first writing about Bacon for a French periodical, L'age nouveau, in 1948.

Bacon was impressed by Goya, African landscapes and wildlife, and took photographs in Kruger National Park. On his return journey he spent a few days in Cairo, and wrote to Erica Brausen of his intent to visit Karnak and Luxor, and then travel via Alexandria to Marseilles. The visit confirmed his belief in the supremacy of Egyptian art, embodied by the Sphinx. He returned in spring 1951. On 30 April[30] 1951, Jessie Lightfoot, his childhood nanny, died at Cromwell Place.

Bacon was gambling in Nice when he learned of her death. She had been his closest companion, joining him in London on his return from Paris, and lived with him and Eric Alden at Queensberry Mews West, and later with him and Eric Hall at the cottage near Petersfield, in Monte Carlo and at Cromwell Place. Stricken, Bacon sold the 7 Cromwell Place apartment.

George Dyer

Bacon met George Dyer in 1964 during the younger man's burglary into the artist's apartment.[31] Dyer was about 30 years old, from London's East End. He came from a family steeped in crime, and had till then spent his life drifting between theft, detention and jail. Bacon's earlier relationships had been with older and tumultuous men. His first lover, Peter Lacy, tore up the artist's paintings, beat him in drunken rages, at times leaving him on streets half-conscious.[32] Bacon was now the dominating personality; attracted to Dyer's vulnerability and trusting nature. Dyer was impressed by Bacon's self-confidence and artistic success, and Bacon acted as a protector and father figure to the insecure younger man.[33]

Dyer was, like Bacon, a borderline alcoholic and similarly took obsessive care with his appearance. Pale-faced and a chain-smoker, Dyer typically confronted his daily hangovers by drinking again. His compact and athletic build belied a docile and inwardly tortured personality. The art critic Michael Peppiatt described him as having the air of a man who could "land a decisive punch". Their behaviours eventually overwhelmed their affair, and by 1970 Bacon was merely providing Dyer with enough money to stay more or less permanently drunk.[33]

As Bacon's work moved from the extreme subject matter of his early paintings to portraits of friends in the mid-1960s, Dyer became a dominating presence in the artist's work.[34] Bacon's treatment of his lover in these canvases emphasised his subject's physicality while remaining uncharacteristically tender. More than any other of the artist's close friends portrayed during this period, Dyer came to feel inseparable from his effigies. The paintings gave him stature, a raison d'etre, and offered meaning to what Bacon described as Dyer's "brief interlude between life and death".[35] Many critics have cited Dyer's portraits as favourites, including Michel Leiris and Lawrence Gowing. Yet as Dyer's novelty diminished within Bacon's circle of sophisticated intellectuals, the younger man became increasingly bitter and ill at ease. Although Dyer welcomed the attention the paintings brought him, he did not pretend to understand or even like them. "All that money an' I fink they're reely 'orrible", he observed with choked pride.[36]

Dyer abandoned crime but soon descended into alcoholism. Bacon's money allowed him to attract hangers-on who accompanied him on massive benders around London's Soho. Withdrawn and reserved when sober, Dyer was insuppressible when drunk, and often attempted to "pull a Bacon" by buying large rounds and paying for expensive dinners for his wide circle. Dyer's erratic behaviour inevitably wore thin – with his cronies, with Bacon, and with Bacon's friends. Most of Bacon's art world associates regarded Dyer as a nuisance – an intrusion into the world of high culture to which their Bacon belonged.[37] Dyer reacted by becoming increasingly needy and dependent. By 1971, he was drinking alone and only in occasional contact with his former lover.

He barely understood or liked the older man's portraits, even though they were the sole reason he was tolerated and allowed to drink with his Soho circle of friends. He admitted of Bacon's paintings; "I think they are really horrible and I don't really understand them." When insecurity set in, Dyer defended himself by drinking from when he woke until when he collapsed.[33]

In October 1971, Dyer joined Bacon in Paris for the opening of the artist's retrospective at the Grand Palais. The show was the high point of Bacon's career to date, and he was now described as Britain's "greatest living painter". Dyer was a desperate man, and although he was "allowed" to attend, he was well aware that he was slipping out of the picture. To draw Bacon's attention he planted cannabis in his flat and phoned the police,[38] and attempted suicide on a number of occasions.[39] On the eve of the Paris exhibition, Bacon and Dyer shared a hotel room, and Bacon spent the next day surrounded by people eager to meet him.

In mid-evening he was informed that Dyer had taken an overdose of barbiturates and was dead. Though devastated, Bacon continued with the retrospective and displayed powers of self-control "to which few of us could aspire", according to Russell.[40] Bacon was deeply affected by the loss of Dyer, and had recently lost four other friends and his nanny. From this point, death haunted his life and work.[41] Though outwardly stoic at the time, he was inwardly broken. He did not express his feelings to critics, but later admitted to friends that "daemons, disaster and loss" now stalked him as if his own version of the Eumenides.[42] Bacon spent the remainder of his stay in Paris attending to promotional activities and funeral arrangements. He returned to London later that week to comfort Dyer's family.

During the funeral many of Dyer's friends, including hardened East-End criminals, broke down in tears. As the coffin was lowered into the grave one friend was overcome and screamed "you bloody fool!" Bacon remained stoic during the proceedings, but in the following months suffered an emotional and physical breakdown. Deeply affected, over the following two years he painted a number of single canvas portraits of Dyer, and the three highly regarded "Black Triptychs", each of which brutally details moments immediately before and after Dyer's suicide.[43]

John Edwards

In 1974, Bacon met John Edwards, from the working class East End, with whom he formed one of his most enduring friendships.


While holidaying in Madrid in 1992, Bacon was admitted to the Handmaids of Maria, a private clinic, where he was cared for by Sister Mercedes. His chronic asthma, which had plagued him all his life, had developed into a respiratory condition and he could not talk or breathe very well. He died of cardiac arrest on 28 April 1992, attempts to resuscitate him having failed. He bequeathed his estate (then valued at £11 million) to John Edwards and Brian Clark, executor of the Estate. In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secured the donation of the contents of Bacon's chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington.[44] The contents of his studio were moved and reconstructed in the gallery.[45] The relocated studio opened to the public in 2001. The entire contents of the studio have been catalogued: approximately 570 books, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves from torn books, 2,000 artist materials, and 70 drawings. Other categories include artists correspondence, magazines, newspapers and vinyl records.

A collection of drawings, some consisting of little more than scribbles given by Bacon to his driver and handyman Barry Joule, possibly to be destroyed, surfaced in 1998, when Joule handed them over to the Tate Gallery. According to Joule the items were given as a gift.[46] Their artistic and commercial value proved negligible but they provided some insight into Bacon's imagination and his thinking, in the early stages of conceiving a finished work. Today most of the works are in the Hugh Lane in Dublin.


The Crucifixion

The imagery of the crucifixion weighs heavily in the work of Francis Bacon.[47] Critic John Russell wrote that the crucifixion in Bacon's work is a "generic name for an environment in which bodily harm is done to one or more persons and one or more other persons gather to watch".[48] Bacon admitted that he saw the scene as "a magnificent armature on which you can hang all types of feeling and sensation".[49] He believed the imagery of the crucifixion allowed him to examine "certain areas of human behaviour" in a unique way, as the armature of the theme had been accumulated by so many old masters.[49]

Though he came to painting relatively late in life – he did not begin to paint seriously until his late 30s – crucifixion scenes can be found in his earliest works.[50] In 1933, his patron Eric Hall commissioned a series of three paintings based on the subject.[51] The early paintings were influenced by such old masters as Matthias Grünewald, Diego Velázquez and Rembrandt,[50] but also by Picasso's late 1920s/early 1930s biomorphs and the early work of the Surrealists.[52]

The Scream

The inspiration for the recurring motif of screaming mouths in many Bacons of the late 1940s and early 1950s was drawn from a number of sources, including medical text books, the works of Matthias Grünewald[53] and photographic stills of the nurse in the Odessa Steps scene in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent The Battleship Potemkin. Bacon saw the film in 1935, and viewed it frequently thereafter. He kept in his studio a photographic still of the scene, showing a close-up of the nurse's head screaming in panic and terror and with broken pince-nez spectacles hanging from her blood-stained face. He referred to the image throughout his career, using it as a source of inspiration.[54]

Bacon described the screaming mouth as a catalyst for his work, and incorporated the shape of the mouth when painting the chimera. Bacon's finding of the theme is examined in one of his first surviving works,[55] Abstraction from the Human Form. By the early 1950s it became an obsessive concern, to the point, according to art critic and Bacon biographer Michael Peppiatt, "it would be no exaggeration to say that, if one could really explain the origins and implications of this scream, one would be far closer to understanding the whole art of Francis Bacon."[56]

Reputation and art market value

In 1947, artist Graham Sutherland connected Bacon with Erica Brausen, who represented Bacon for twelve years. Despite this, Bacon did not mount a one-man show in Brausen's Hanover Gallery until 1949.[57] In 1958 he joined the Marlborough Fine Art gallery, and from then until 1992, Marlborough was his sole dealer. In return for signing a 10-year contract, Marlborough advanced him money against current and future paintings, with the price of each determined by its size. A painting measuring 20 inches by 24 inches was valued at £165 ($462), while one of 65 inches by 78 inches was valued at £420 ($1,176); these were sizes Bacon favoured. According to the contract, the painter would try to supply the gallery with £3,500 ($9,800) worth of pictures each year.[58]

In 1999, England's High Court ruled that Marlborough Fine Art had to be replaced by a new independent representative for the Bacon estate.[59] The estate moved its business to Faggionato Fine Arts in Europe and Tony Shafrazi in New York.[60] That same year, the estate sued Marlborough UK and Marlborough International, Vaduz, charging them with wrongfully exploiting Bacon in a relationship that was manifestly disadvantageous to him until his death in 1992, and to his estate. The suit alleged Marlborough in London grossly underpaid Bacon for his works and resold them through its Liechtenstein branch at much higher prices. It contended that Marlborough never supplied a complete accounting of Bacon's works and sales and that Marlborough handled some works it has never accounted for.[61] The suit was dropped in early 2002 when both sides agreed to pay their own costs and Marlborough released all its documents about Bacon.[62] In 2003, the estate was handed to a four-person trust based on Jersey.[63]

The Popes and large triptychs command the highest prices at auction.[60] By 1989 Bacon was the most expensive living artist after one of his triptychs sold at Sotheby's for over $6 million. In 2007, actress Sophia Loren consigned Study for Portrait II (1956) from the estate of her late husband Carlo Ponti at Christie's.[64] It was auctioned for the record price of £14.2 million ($27.5 million).[65]

On 14 May 2008, the Triptych, 1976, sold at Sotheby's for €55.465 million ($86.28 million), a record for the artist and the highest price paid for a postwar work of art at auction at the time. On 13 November 2013, Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold at Christie's New York for $142.4 million, surpassing both of Triptych, 1976's records, and more importantly claiming the record for highest auction price of a work of art, a title previously held by the fourth version of Edvard Munch's Scream and now held by Picasso's Women of Algiers.



  1. Harrison (2006), 7
  2. Schmied (1996), 121
  3. 3.0 3.1 Russell (1971), 22
  4. Although his decisions might have been driven by the fact that in the 50s he tended to produce group works for specific showings, usually left things to the last minute, and worked better under pressure
  5. Ticking wristwatches (a further indicator of rough trade in 1960 England) and dissolving faces are common in his work after 1972.
  6. Horrible!, The Guardian, Saturday August 30 2008.
  7. Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New - Episode 6 - The View from the Edge - 21 September 1980 - BBC.
  8. Some had appeared in black-and-white photographs in the late 1950s Catalogue Raisonné
  9. "Francis Bacon painting auctioned for more than $142 million". 20 November 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Picasso's Women of Algiers smashes auction record". BBC. 11 May 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Francis Bacon biography, Tate galleries website by Hugh Lane Gallery
  12. 12.0 12.1 Peppiatt (1996), 4
  13.; Retrieved 11 August 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 Peppiatt (1996), 5
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Bacon family's 1911 census form details". Retrieved 26 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "I was told by a homosexual friend of Francis' that he'd once admitted that his father, the dreaded and failed horse trainer, had arranged that his small son spend his childhood being systematically and viciously horsewhipped by his Irish grooms.", Caroline Blackwood, Francis Bacon (1909–1992), The New York Review of Books Volume 39, No. 15, 24 September 1992
  17. "I'm not sure Francis had a lot in common with my mother because, she didn't take much notice of his art or anything. I remember sometimes he brought home things that he'd drawn and, I don't know what my mother did with them she wasn't wildly interested in it. They were always, what we used to call 1920s ladies you know, with the cloche hat and, cigarette holder [gestures long holder]. That sort of thing. They were always drawings like that. They were very nice. What happened to them I don't know. – And, funnily enough I actually remember them."  – Ianthe Knott (née Bacon) interviewed for Bacon's Arena dir. Adam Low (BBC Arena), broadcast 19 March 2005, at 9 pm on BBC2.
  18. Peppiatt (1996), 32
  19. "The replies used to pour in, and my old nanny used to go through them all and pick out the best ones. I must say she was always right. There was one time I found myself being taken back to Paris by this dreadful old thing who took a very expensive flat just off the Champs-Élysées, on the rue 1er de Serbie. I didn't stay with him long, as you might imagine! But what was amazing was how easily you were able to pick up people in that way." – quoted in Peppiatt, 55
  20. Peppiatt, Michael. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996
  21. "Another thing that made me think about the human cry was a book I bought when I was very young from a bookshop in Paris, a second-hand book with beautiful hand-coloured plates of diseases of the mouth, beautiful plates of the mouth open and of the examination of the inside of the mouth; and they fascinated me, and I was obsessed by them. And then I saw – or perhaps I even knew by then – the Potemkin film, and I attempted to use the Potemkin still as a basis on which I could also use these marvellous illustrations of the human mouth. It never worked out though." — from interview 2 (May 1966) (Interviews with Francis Bacon David Sylvester)
  22. It is doubtful that he ever intended to do so. He made the point in several interviews, but more likely is that the prefix Studies was reflective of the fact that he was at the time unsure of his ability, and destroyed the majority of his paintings. See Schmied (1996), 75
  23. "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944". Tate Gallery display caption. Retrieved on May 18, 2007.
  24. Bragg, Melvyn. "Francis Bacon". South Bank Show. BBC documentary film, first aired June 9, 1985.
  25. Letter by Bacon to G. Sutherland, 30 December 1946, Monte Carlo, National Galleries and Museums of Wales
  26. C. Jacobi, "Cat's Cradle – Francis Bacon and the Art of 'Isabel Rawsthorne'", Visual Culture in Britain (special Bacon issue); ed. D Mellor and Y Holt, 10. 3, 293—314; ISSN 1750-0133 (electronic), 1355–5502 (paper) [1]
  27. Listener, 17 November 1949
  28. Listener, 1 September 1950.
  29. DS:Have you managed to paint any pictures in which you did go on and on and the paint got thick and you still pulled them through? || FB:I have, yes. There was an early one of a head against curtains. It was a small picture, and very, very thick. I worked on that for about four months, and in some curious way it did, I think, perhaps, come through a bit.
  30. 31 April in Peppiatt, the Estate has 30 April
  31. Akbar, Arifa. "Inside the Mind of Francis Bacon"[dead link]. The Independent (London), 25 April 2007. Retrieved 29 July 2007.
  32. Heaney, Joe. "Love is the Devil". Gay Times, September 2006
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Peppiatt (1996), 211 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "mlp211" defined multiple times with different content
  34. Harrison, Martin. "Francis Bacon: lost and found". Apollo Magazine, 1 March 2005
  35. Peppiatt (1996), 213
  36. Peppiatt (1996), 214
  37. Peppiatt (1996), 215
  38. Norton, James. "The six loves of Francis Bacon". Sunday Herald, 13 March 2005.
  39. "George Dyer". Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2001. Retrieved 29 July 2007.
  40. Russell (1970), 151
  41. Russell (1971), 178
  42. Russell (1970), 179
  43. Peppiatt (1996), 243
  44. Ficacci, 94
  45. "Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Francis Bacon Studio, History of Studio Relocation". Retrieved 26 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  47. For his relation to Deleuze, the body and religion, see Francis Sanzaro's "A Review of Francis Bacon: A Centenary Review at the Metropolitan Museum of Art" in Comparative and Continental Philosophy vol. 1 no. 2 (2009): 279–85
  48. Russell, 113
  49. 49.0 49.1 Schmied, 78
  50. 50.0 50.1 Sylvester, 13
  51. Davies & Yard, 12
  52. Bürger, Peter. In Zweite (2006), 30
  53. Schmied, 73
  54. Davies
  55. Throughout his career, Bacon destroyed a great many of his paintings
  56. Peppiatt, 24
  57. Francis Bacon L&M Arts, New York / Los Angeles.
  58. Michael Shnayerson (August 2000), Francis Bacon’s Tangled Web Vanity Fair.
  59. Warren Hoge (23 March 1999), Court Cuts Gallery's Ties To Francis Bacon Estate New York Times.
  60. 60.0 60.1 Sarah Thornton (29 August 2008), Francis Bacon claims his place at the top of the market The Art Newspaper.
  61. Judith H. Dobrzynski (20 April 2000), Dadaist's Heirs Also Fight Marlborough Over Estate New York Times.
  62. Alan Riding (7 March 2003), John Edwards, 53, Francis Bacon Confidant New York Times.
  63. Henry Samuel (21 April 2010), Francis Bacon heirs battle Van Gogh foundation The Daily Telegraph.
  64. Colin Gleadell (30 January 2007), Art sales: Sophia Loren's slice of Bacon The Daily Telegraph
  65. [s.n.] (9 February 2007). Bacon portrait breaks sale record. BBC. Accessed September 2013.


  • Archimbaud, Michel. Francis Bacon: The Final Vision. New York: Phaidon Press, 1994. ISBN 0-7148-2983-8
  • Bacon, Francis. Francis Bacon: Important Paintings from the Estate. New York: Tony Shafrazi gallery, 1998. ISBN 1-891475-16-9
  • Baldassari, Anne. Bacon-Picasso: The Life of Images. London: Flammarion, 2005. ISBN 2-08-030486-0
  • Brighton, Andrew. Francis Bacon. London: Tate Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-85437-307-2
  • Cappock, Margarita. Francis Bacon's Studio. London: Merrell Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-85894-276-4
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Paris: Continuum International Publishing- Mansell, 2004. ISBN 0-8264-7318-0
  • Domino, Christophe. Francis Bacon. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997. ISBN 0-500-30076-3
  • Edwards, John. 7 Reece Mews: Francis Bacon's Studio. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001. ISBN 0-500-51034-2
  • Farson, Daniel. The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon. London: Vintage, 1994. ISBN 0-09-930781-2
  • Gale, Matthew & Sylvester David. Francis Bacon: Working on Paper London: Tate Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-85437-280-7
  • Hammer, Martin. Bacon and Sutherland. Boston: Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-300-10796-X
  • Hammer, Martin. Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2005. ISBN 1-903278-66-X
  • Harrison, Martin. In Camera, Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting. Thames & Hudson, 2005. ISBN 0-500-23820-0
  • Harrison, Martin; Daniels, Rebecca. Francis Bacon Incunabula. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. ISBN 978-0-500-09344-3
  • Kundera, Milan & Borel, France. Bacon: Portraits and Self-portraits. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. ISBN 0-500-09266-4
  • Peppiatt, Michael. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996. ISBN 0-297-81616-0
  • Peppiatt, Michael. Francis Bacon in the 1950s. London: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-12192-X
  • Rothenstein, John (intro); Alley, Ronald. Catalogue raisonnè and documentation, 1964. Francis Bacon. Thames and Hudson
  • Russell, John. Francis Bacon. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. ISBN 0-500-20271-0
  • Sabatier, Bruno. "The Complete Graphic Work, Catalogue Raisonné", Paris, JSC Gallery, 2012.
  • Schmied, Wieland. Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict. London: Prestel Verlag, 2006. ISBN 3-7913-3472-7
  • Sinclair, Andrew Francis. Bacon: His Life and Violent Times. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1993; New York, Crown
  • Steffen, Barbara; Bryson, Norman. Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art. Zurich: Skira Editore, 2004. ISBN 88-8491-721-2
  • Sylvester, David. Interviews with Francis Bacon. London: Thames & Hudson, 1987. ISBN 0-500-27475-4
  • Sylvester, David. Looking Back at Francis Bacon. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000. ISBN 0-500-01994-0
  • Sylvester, David. Francis Bacon: The Human Body. London: Hayward Gallery, 1998. ISBN 1-85332-175-3
  • Sylvester, David. About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948–2000. London: Pimlico, 2002. ISBN 0-7126-0563-0
  • Todoli, Vincente. Francis Bacon: Caged. Uncaged. Lisbon: Fundacao De Serralves, 2003. ISBN 972-739-109-5
  • Van Alphen, Ernst. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self. London: Reaktion Books, 1992. ISBN 0-948462-34-5
  • Zweite, Armin. Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real. London: Thames and Hudson, 2006. ISBN 0-500-09335-0

Further reading

  • Akerman, Mariano (2012). "Bacon: Painter with a double-edged sword", Blue Chip Magazine, Vol. LXXXVIII, N°8, February–March 2012, pp. 29–33; available online.
  • Chare, Nicholas (2012). After Francis Bacon: Synaesthesia and Sex in Paint. London: Ashgate.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Davis, Ben. "Bacon Half-Baked". Artnet Retrieved 27 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links