10-28-1909

Francis Bacon - Self Portrait

FRANCIS BACON, Anglo-Irish painter, born (d. 1992); 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. 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, another 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’. Francis had a difficult relationship with his father, once admitting to being sexually attracted to him. Doubtless, Eddy Bacon was aware of his friend’s 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 Harcourt-Smith 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 French, 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 Nicholas 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. 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 Opera when it premiered in April 1927. From the autumn of 1927, Bacon stayed at the Paris Hotel Delambre in Montparnasse. 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.

Douglas Cooper, then curator (and part owner/co-director with Fred Mayor) of the Mayor Gallery, in Cork Street, arranged for one of Bacon’s paintings, Women in the Sunlight (destroyed without trace), to be included a group show in April 1933.

It was also thanks to Cooper that Bacon’s Crucifixion (1933) was reproduced in Herbert Read’s book Art Now (opposite a 1929 Baigneuse by Picasso — plates 60/61). The publication was accompanied by an exhibition of the works, in October, at the Mayor Gallery, where Crucifixion (1933) was shown as Composition. 1933.

Crucifixion (1933) (oil on canvas) was subsequently purchased by Sir Michael Sadler (who, other than friends or relations, was the first to buy a painting), and who also commissioned a second version, Crucifixion (1933) (chalk, gouache and pencil), and sent Bacon an x-ray photograph of his own skull, with a request that he paint a portrait from it. Bacon duly incorporated the x-ray directly into The Crucifixion (1933).

In 1964, Bacon began a relationship with 39-year-old Eastender George Dyer, whom he met, he claimed, while the latter was burgling his apartment. A petty criminal with a history of juvenile detention and prison, Dyer was a somewhat tortured individual, insecure, alcoholic, appearance obsessed and never really fitting in within the bohemian set surrounding Francis. The relationship was stormy and in 1971, on the eve of Bacon’s major retrospective at the Paris Grand Palais, Dyer committed suicide in the hotel room they were sharing, overdosing on barbiturates. The event was recorded in Bacon’s 1973 masterpiece Triptych May-June 1973.

In 1974, Bacon met John Edwards, a young, illiterate, handsome Eastender with whom he formed one of his most enduring friendships, eventually bequeathing his £11m fortune to Edwards after his death.

Bacon died of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, in Madrid, Spain. Bacon bequeathed his entire estate (then valued at £11 million) to John Edwards after his death. Edwards, in turn, donated the contents of Francis Bacon’s chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin. Bacon’s studio contents were moved and the studio carefully reconstructed in the gallery. Additionally draft materials, perhaps intended for destruction, were according to Canadian Barry Joule bequeathed to Joule who later forwarded most of the materials to create the Barry Joule Archive in Dublin with other parts of the collection given later to the Tate museum.

Bacon was disdainful of his early work and destroyed the majority of it. He also destroyed an unknown number of works throughout his lifetime, and fragments of canvases were found in his studio after his death. About the studio, Bacon remarked: “for me, chaos suggests images.” Bacon’s Soho life was portrayed by John Maybury, with Derek Jacobi as Bacon and Daniel Craig as George Dyer (with some lovely frontal nudity on Craig’s part) and with Tilda Swinton as Muriel Belcher, in the film Love is The Devil (1998), based on Daniel Farson’s 1993 biography The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon. Bacon is also cited in interviews with contemporary British artist Damien Hirst as being one of the latter’s principal influences.