Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Anglo-Irish figurative painter. He was a collateral descendant of the Elizabethan philosopher Francis Bacon. His artwork is well-known for its bold, austere, and often grotesque or nightmarish imagery.

Early life

Francis Bacon was born in 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, to English parents. His father, Eddy Bacon, was a forty year old retired Hussars Captain, recently turned thoroughbred racehorse-trainer. His mother Winnie (née Firth) was twenty-six and noted for her outgoing, gregarious nature, in stark contrast to her highly-strung and argumentative husband. Francis was cared for by the family nurse, thirty nine year old Jessie Lightfoot. A sickly child with asthma and a violent allergy to dogs and horses, Bacon was often given morphine to ease suffering during attacks. The family changed houses often, and moved back and forth between Ireland and England several times during this period, leading to a feeling of displacement that would stay with the artist throughout his life. In 1911 the family lived in Cannycourt House near Kilcullen, County Kildare, but later moved to Westbourne Terrace, London, close by to where Eddy Bacon worked at the Territorial Force Records Office.

Abbeyleix

On returning to Ireland after the War, Francis Bacon was sent to live for a time with his maternal grandmother, Winifred Supple, and her husband Kerry, at Farmleigh, Abbeyleix, County Laois. Eddy Bacon later bought Farmleigh from his mother-in-law, though they soon moved again to Straffan Lodge in Naas, County Kildare, the birthplace of both parents. Though Francis was a shy child, he enjoyed dressing up. This, coupled with his effeminate manner, often enraged his father and created a distance between them. A story emerged in 1992 of his father having had Francis horsewhipped by their Irish groom. By the age of fourteen he was - he claimed - engaging in sodomy with these grooms. In 1924 his parents moved to Gloucestershire, first to Prescott House in Gotherington, then to Linton Hall, situated near the border with Herefordshire. Francis spent eighteen months boarding at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, from the third term of 1924 until April 1926. This was to be his only brush with a formal education, though he ran away after several weeks.

At a fancy-dress party at the Firth family house at Cavendish Hall, Suffolk, Francis dressed up as a flapper with an Eton crop, beaded dress, lipstick, high heels, and a long cigarette holder.

In 1926 the family moved back to Ireland, and Straffan Lodge. His sister, Ianthe (b. 1921), recalls that Bacon made drawings of 1920s ladies with cloche hats and long cigarette holders. Later that year, Francis was banished from 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 autumn and winter of 1926 in London, with the help of an allowance of £3 a week from his mother's trust fund, living on his instincts, simply 'drifting', and reading Nietzsche. When he was broke, Bacon found that by the simple expedient of rent-dodging and petty theft, he could manage a reasonable economy. To supplement his income, he briefly tried his hand at domestic service, but although he enjoyed cooking, he quickly 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.

It has been suggested (by his cousin Diana Watson) that the seventeen-year old Bacon may have taken a few drawing lessons around this time at St Martin's School of Art.

Bacon discovered that he attracted a certain type of rich man, an attraction he was quick to take advantage of, having developed a taste for good food and wine. One of the men was an ex-army friend of his father, an uncle, again a breeder of race-horses, named Harcourt-Smith. Bacon later claimed that his father had asked this friend to take him 'in-hand' and 'make a man of him'. Doubtless, Eddy Bacon was aware of his friend's impeccable reputation for virility, but not of his penchant for young men.

In the early Spring of 1927 Bacon was taken by Harcourt-Smith to the opulent, decadent, "wide open" Berlin of the Weimar Republic, staying together at the Hotel Adlon. It is likely that Bacon saw Fritz Lang's Metropolis at this time.

Bacon spent two months in Berlin, though his uncle left after just 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 the French language, Bacon lived for three months with Madame Bocquentin and her family at their house near Chantilly. At the Château de Chantilly (Musée Condé) he saw Nicolas Poussin's Massacre of the Innocents, a painting to which he was often to refer in his own later work.

From Chantilly Bacon went to an exhibition that was largely to inspire him to take up painting and become a world renowned legendary artist. His visit to a 1927 exhibition of 106 drawings by Picasso at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris, aroused his artistic interest, and he often took the train into Paris five or more times a week to see shows and art exhibitions. Bacon saw Abel Gance's epic silent film Napoléon at the Paris Opéra when it premiered in April 1927. From the autumn of 1927, Bacon stayed at the Paris Hôtel Delambre in Montparnasse.

1930s

Bacon returned to London in late 1928 or early 1929, and started work as an interior designer. He took a studio in a converted garage, 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington, and shared the upper floor with Eric Alden (who was later to become his first collector) and his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. In the first issue of Cahiers d'Art for 1929, Bacon saw Picasso's painted biomorphic figures, reproduced in an article by editor Christian Zervos: Picasso à Dinard, Été 1928. (Likely to have been bought either from Zwemmers bookshop, on the Charing Cross Road, or in Paris.) The 1927 show at Rosenberg's in Paris had been of Neo-classical drawings, and it was the 1928 Les Baigneuses and Le Baiser in Cahiers d'Art, that gave Bacon his direction as a painter.

Bacon was befriended by Geoffrey Gilbey, then the racing correspondent for the Daily Express, and for a time worked as his racing secretary. Gilbey had a house in Ormonde Gate, Chelsea. Bacon advertised himself as a "gentleman's companion" in The Times, on the front page (then reserved for personal messages and insertions). Among the many answers carefully vetted by Nanny Lightfoot was one from an elderly cousin of Douglas Cooper, at that time owner of one of the finest collection 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 further sought Cooper's help in promoting Bacon's developing skill as a designer of furniture and interiors. Cooper also commissioned a desk from Bacon in battleship grey around this time.

In 1929 he met Eric Hall at the Bath Club, Dover Street, London, where Bacon was working at the telephone exchange. Hall (who was general manager of Peter Jones) was to be both patron and lover to Bacon, in an often torturous relationship.

'The 1930 Look in British Decoration'

The first show in the winter of 1929, at Queensberry Mews, was of Bacon's rugs and furniture (a rug was purchased by Hall), but may have included Painted screen (c.1929 - 1930) and Watercolour (1929), both bought by Eric Alden. Watercolour (1929) his earliest surviving painting, 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, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier / Charlotte Perriand and Eileen Gray.

Bacon returned to Germany in 1930. A dramatic studio portrait taken of Bacon by Helmar Lerski, a Swiss photographer and cinematographer, probably dates from this visit. Bacon was later to tell Stephen Spender that he had been very impressed by the work of a photographer who had produced striking effects using mirrors and natural light filtered through screens, but that he could not remember the artist's name.

Later that year Francis Bacon met Roy de Maistre, an Australian painter who was to become a close friend and mentor. De Maistre's circle included Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and Douglas Cooper.

A second exhibit was held between November 4th & 22nd at 17 Queensberry Mews West. Alongside de Maistre and Jean Sheppeard, Bacon showed four paintings and one print. Gouache (1929) may be the piece titled as A Brick Wall in the hand-list. Painting (1929 - 1930) (probably the work listed as Tree by the Sea) is Bacon's earliest surviving oil painting. Both were bought by Alden. The two other paintings (Self-portrait and Two Brothers) and print (Dark Child in an edition of three) are now lost.

Bacon left the Queensberry Mews West studio in 1931, and was not to have a settled space for some years. Bacon probably shared a studio with Roy de Maistre, about 1931/1932, at Carlyle Studios, (just off the Kings Road), in Chelsea.

Portrait (1932) and Portrait (c.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'.

In April 1933, Bacon moved to 71 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea (just across Pimlico Road from Ebury Street, where de Maistre had his temporary studio). The studio there was in a converted garage (like the Queensberry Mews West studio), a friend, the interior designer (and property developer) Arundell Clarke, had had his showroom there before moving on to Mayfair.

Francis Bacon (painter). (2007, January 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:44, February 2, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Francis_Bacon_%28painter%29&oldid=104312145

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