The British painter Francis Bacon was born in Dublin. In 1928 or 1929 he went to London where he worked as an interior decorator. He was self-taught as a painter; the small number of his surviving works from before 1944 show the influence of Picasso in their distorted, attenuated figures. This influence is also apparent in his earliest important painting, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944; Tate Gallery, London), a triptych depicting sinister, stunted creatures, both threatening and agonized, starkly modeled in gray against a piercing orange background. The impact this made when first exhibited in London in April 1945 should be understood not only in the light of contemporary events, but also in contrast to the apparent trend in British painting towards mellow romanticism, or a new humanism.
His later paintings are similarly horrific. They include a series of Popes with mouths wide open in a scream or a yawn based on Veláquez, a motif he began to use in 1949 which reappears throughout his work. The juxtaposition of living flesh alongside hunks of meat in these pictures and else-where acts as a memento mori. Their similarity is emphasized by Bacon's handling of paint, heavily worked in smears to suggest the vulnerability and flexibility of flesh and blood. His technical procedures result in a blurring of the image reminiscent of photography, a constant source for Bacon. He was fascinated by the way in which a figure caught in violent action loses its human identity, a theme he explored in paintings based on Eadweard Muybridge's studies of the body in motion.
Bacon's art is dominated by a sense of risk, an element he believed vital to life; it is expressed both in his intense, unpremeditated manner of working, which necessitated the destruction of many spoiled paintings, and in the mood of the finished canvas. Even portraits of friends are precariously poised in the briefest indication of support and space.
Further reading Hobhouse, J. “Francis Bacon: Retrospective at the Grand Palais”, Arts vol. XLVI, New York (1972). Russell, J. Francis Bacon, London (1971). Sinclair, A. Francis Bacon: His Life and Violent Times, London (1993).
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