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Study for a Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)

Francis Bacon

(1909 - 1992)

Irish-British Expressionist painter Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful and original figure painters of the twentieth century. His intense and riveting painting style marked him as Britain's most important post-war artist.

Francis Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin, to a former British army captain and his wife who came from wealthy decent. The family was originally based in County Kildare, and subsequently lived at Straffan Lodge, near Naas in Country Kildare. During outbreaks of the Irish Civil War, young Francis was shuffled between relatives before his father moved the family back to London, where they settled for the duration of the First World War.

At the age of 16, Francis left home to travel across Europe; he spent time in London, Berlin and Paris over the next few years. Paris left a lasting impression on him due to his viewing of an exhibition of drawings by Picasso at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg.

In 1929, Francis returned to London and worked as an interior decorator. Although designing furniture occupied most of his time, he began to explore his passion to paint, an interest that had been triggered by his visit to Paris. Experimenting with watercolors led to painting in oil, and before long, Francis Bacon was exhibiting paintings alongside the furniture and rugs he designed. Having had no formal training in painting, he was stunned by his accomplishments and gave up his career in interior design to pursue painting exclusively. While his early watercolors were inspired by cubism, his oil paintings demonstrated a more surrealist approach.

A group exhibition at the Mayor Gallery in London in 1933 featured some of his first works, and by 1937, Francis Bacon had his first solo show in London and took part in an art exhibition at Thomas Agnew and Sons, also in London.

‘Crucifixion’ (1933) gained Francis Bacon some notoriety; however, his career actually began to soar in the mid-1940s. ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’ (1944) established him as a new force in post-war art. He developed his own distinctive style as a figure painter. During the 1950s, images of pain and torture were prevalent in all his works as he depicted the darker side of life. The artist preferred to create from photographs rather than from real life, employing a unique technique that made use of rags, dust, and his hands, along with paint and brush.

Fame became a double edged sword when the public discovered Bacon’s homosexuality. His parents were shamed and consequently shunned him. When it seemed things could not get worse, his longtime lover George Dyer committed suicide just prior to the opening of Bacon’s major retrospective in Paris, France, in 1971. If speculation was true, and his paintings reflected his inner feelings, it was best conveyed in ‘Triptych’ (1973), a three-paneled work portraying George leaning over a toilet and vomiting into a sink.

Although Francis Bacon spent the majority of his life in London, he had major exhibitions in other cities such as Paris, New York, Washington, Dublin, Los Angeles and Moscow. The artist died in Madrid on the 28th of April 1992.

Movements associated with Francis Bacon:

Art prints by Francis Bacon
Study for a Portrait II (After the Life Mask of William Blake)


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