Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is born on October 28th, 1909, as the son of English parents in Dublin. Bacon gives up his work as designer und interior decorator in 1931 and turns to painting. First oil paintings such as the Crucifixion from 1934 emerge. Bacon however only paints sporadically at first and destroys many of his works again. Only 15 paintings survive from the period between 1929 and 1944.

After receiving devastating critiques for his first works, Bacon retreats and initially gives up painting. Not until completing Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, exhibited in 1945 in the London Gallery Lefevre, does Bacon look back to the beginning of his artistic career. As he did later in his career, he also works closely here with photographic material, continuously returning to topics such as horror, martyrdom, fear and war, developing figural scenes influenced by sculpture that claim much attention from post-war viewers.

Bacon participates in many national and international group exhibitions. With his Painting 1946, he turns increasingly toward linear and painterly compositions. His works find resonance with collectors and first museum purchases are made. In 1949 Bacon concludes his series of six heads in London (Head I-VI), in which the figure of the shrieking pope appears for the first time. The intensive work on creative, painterly solutions is documented evenly in the study-like nature of the works and their serial conception.

The portrait series from the 1950s can be read as a study of the social deformation of the individual. Bacon begins with photographic material given to him by his friends including John Deakin, George Dyer, John Edwards. He consciously diffuses individuality through a destructive brushstroke, through brachial traces of painting that are at the center of his interest. He situates his figures in limiting spaces, makes subtle references to individual objects in space or inscribes the subjects of his portraits with cage-like constructions. Juxtaposed with these are landscapes and figures under an open sky with broad-ranged spatial scenarios.

In 1953 Bacon paints his Study after Velazquez’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X and the eight part series Study for a Portrait. Bacon first has one-man shows in New York and London 1954, followed by his participation in the Biennial in Venice. In 1956 Bacon completes his first Self-portrait in London. With this painting the sitting figures are established in his work: »introspective, with folded hands, which often disappear behind crossed legs, in which members of the body form a type of knot that is both tense and unsure at the same time.« (Hervé Vanel 1996).

In 1962 the Tate Gallery organizes a grand Bacon retrospective with 92 of his paintings for which he did the Three Studies for a Crucifixion. Bacon meets Alberto Giacometti in London that year and is exhibited with him at the same time in 1965 in London. In 1963 and 1965 the Marlborough Gallery shows Francis Bacon together with Henry Moore. Bacon paints the first large triptych Three Figures in a Room and the first portrait of his friend and model George Dyer.

After the deaths of his friends George Dyer (1971) and John Deakins (1972), Bacon is occupied in many of his works with the self-portrait. At the same time he begins with the series of so-called »Black Triptychs«. He creates picture compositions with increasing clarity; his color palette begins to change in favor of darker contrasts and more luminous orange and red tones. In 1975 the first artist interviews conducted by David Sylvester between 1962 and 1974 appear, and there is a Bacon Exhibition in New York. Bacon’s conversations on painting become a significant source for painters of the 20th Century.

»At the age of 77 Bacon presents us with something completely new (…) A new frugality of means and an extreme simplification of composition which appear to come together in a synthesis. This becomes evident in the more recent Study of the Human Body, in the explicit nakedness of painting« (Piguet 1987).

Francis Bacon dies on April 28th, 1992, in Madrid during a trip on the occasion of a Velazquez Exhibition.

Selected Literature

Francis Bacon. Die Portraits. Ausst.-Kat Hamburger Kunsthalle, hg. v. Christoph Heinrich, Hamburg 2005

Francis Bacon: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. Haus der Kunst, München 1996

Davies, H. u. Yard, St.: Bacon, New York 1986

Schmied, W.: Francis Bacon. Vier Studien zu einem Porträt, Berlin 1985

Sylvester, David: Gespräche mit Francis Bacon, München 1982

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014

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