Francis Bacon

Bacon left home in 1926 at just 17 years old because his parents did not accept his sexuality. He travelled to Berlin, where he took part in the city’s gay nightlife as well as its intellectual circles and to Paris where he became further interested in art thanks to visiting to galleries. When Bacon returned to London in the late 1920s, he began a short career as interior decorator, also designing furniture and rugs in a modern Art Deco-influenced style.

Additionally, he began to paint, first in a Cubist style influenced by Pablo Picasso and later in a more Surrealist manner. Bacon’s self-taught work attracted interest and in 1937 he included in a London group exhibition entitled “Young British Painters”. Francis Bacon later dated the true beginning of his artistic career as 1944.

It was around this time that he devoted himself to painting and began to create the works for which he is still remembered, with “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” seen as a major turning point. His large canvases depicted human figures, which are most often a single figure isolated in an empty room, in a cage or against a black background. For one series of paintings, Bacon was inspired by Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), but he painted the subject in his own style, using dark colours and rough brushwork and distorting the sitter’s face. These works came to be known as Bacon’s “screaming pope” paintings. In other works a figure might stand beside a flayed carcass of meat. Also other paintings were derived from traditional religious subject matter. In all of his paintings, Bacon emphasized the universal experiences of suffering and alienation. Even during a period in which modern art was dominated by abstraction, Bacon continued to paint the human face and figure. His emotional use of brushwork and colour as well as his exaggeration of forms caused him to be labelled as an Expressionist artist, though he rejected the term. Some of Bacon’s works of the 1960s depicted a lone male figure dressed in a business suit. Others showed nude figures often characterized by with grotesquely altered proportions and features. Bacon used brighter colours at times, but themes of violence and mortality were still central to his art. He also frequently painted portraits of people he knew, including fellow artist Lucian Freud and George Dyer, who met Bacon upon attempting to rob the painter’s home. Bacon was known for his carousing but he maintained a home and a notoriously cluttered studio in London and continued to paint until the end of his life. While he was on holiday, he died in Madrid on April 28th 1992, at the age of 82 years.

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