Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, graphic and emotionally raw imagery. Bacon's painterly but abstracted figures typically appear isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. He began painting during his early 20s and worked only sporadically until his mid-30s. Before this time he drifted, earning his living as an interior decorator and designer of furniture and rugs.
Born in Dublin, his father was a veteran of the Boer War. He was raised by the family nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who played a key role in the artist's development. During Bacon's early years, he drifted through rented homes in England, accompanied by Lightfoot. Bacon came to London in 1926, living on his instincts, when he was broke, Bacon found that by the expedient of rent-dodging and petty theft. Early on he was aware that he was able to attract a certain type of rich man, something he was quick to take advantage of. Bacon was taken by Harcourt-Smith to the opulent, decadent Berlin where he spent two months then he went to Paris. His visit to a 1927 exhibition of 106 drawings by Picasso aroused his artistic interest.
Bacon returned to London and started work as an interior designer. He took a studio in South Kensington and had his first show in 1929. In the August 1930 he appeared in the issue of The Studio magazine "The 1930 Look in British Decoration". He returned to Germany the same year and again Paris in 1935. Roland Penrose and Herbert Read, making a selection for the International Surrealist Exhibition, visited his studio in winter 1935 and saw three or four large canvases but found his work "insufficiently surreal to be included in the show". Unfit for active wartime service he was discharged.
Bacon considered his 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion as his fons et origo and did not want any of his earlier works to enter his canon. Its visit to Paris in 1946 brought him into more immediate contact with French post-war painting ideas. It was this work and his heads and figures of the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s that sealed his reputation as a notably bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s, Bacon mainly produced portrait heads of friends. He often said in interviews that he saw images "in series", and his artistic output often saw him focus on single themes for sustained periods – including his crucifixion.
He met George Dyer in 1964, Dyer was about 30 years old with a life spent drifting between theft, juvenile detention centres and jail. Bacon's relationships before meeting Dyer had been with older men who had been the dominating presence. Bacon was attracted to Dyer's vulnerability. 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. More than any other of the artist's close friends portrayed during this period.
In October 1971, Dyer accompanied Bacon to Paris for the opening of the artist's retrospective. The show was the high point of Bacon's career to date, and he was now described as Britain's "greatest living painter". On the eve of the Paris exhibition, Bacon was informed that Dyer had taken an overdose and was dead. Though devastated, he continued with the retrospective. Bacon was deeply affected. From this point, death haunted his life and work. Though outwardly stoic at the time, he was inwardly broken. To confront his loss, he painted a number of tributes on small canvasses and his three "Black Triptych" masterpieces.
Despite his existentialist outlook on life expressed through his paintings, Bacon always appeared to be a bon vivant, spending much of his middle and later life eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho. His chronic asthma, had developed into a respiratory condition and he could not talk or breathe very well. He died of cardiac arrest in 1992.
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