Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

The South Bank Show (1985)

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, graphic and emotionally raw imagery. His painterly but abstracted figures typically appear isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon began painting during his early 20s and worked only sporadically until his mid-30s. Unsure of his ability as a painter, he drifted and earned his living as an interior decorator and designer of furniture and rugs. Later, he admitted that his career was delayed because he had spent too long looking for a subject that would sustain his interest. His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion which sealed his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition.

He often said in interviews that he saw images "in series", and his artistic output typically focused on a single subject or format for sustained periods. His output can be crudely drawn as consisting of sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms, the early 1950s screaming popes, and mid to late 1950s animals and lone figures suspended in geometric structures. These were followed by his early 1960s modern variations of the crucifixion in the triptych format. From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Bacon mainly produced strikingly compassionate portraits of friends, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover George Dyer, his art became more personal, inward looking and preoccupied with themes and motifs of death. The climax of this period came with his 1982 "Study for Self-Portrait", and his late masterpiece Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86. Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid set of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person was a bon vivant and notably and unapologetically gay. A prolific artist, he nonetheless spent many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson and Jeffrey Bernard. After Dyer's suicide he largely distanced himself from this circle, and while his social life was still active and his passion for gambling continued, he settled into a platonic relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards.

During his lifetime, Bacon was equally reviled and acclaimed. Margaret Thatcher described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures", and he was the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Since his death, his reputation and market value has steadily grown. In the late 1990s a number of major works previously assumed to have been destroyed, including popes from the early 1950s and portraits from the 1960s, surfaced on the art market and set record prices at auction. On 12 November 2013 his painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud set the record as the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned, selling for $142,405,000

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