Francis Bacon was known for his raw abstract imagery of figures that appeared isolated in steel geometrical cages or glass, offering a poignant, often bleak take on the human condition. The Tate Gallery in London held two retrospectives during the Anglo-Irish painter’s lifetime, and a third in 2008, 16 years after his death.
Born in Dublin in 1909, Bacon grew up in a well-to do family. His father was a racehorse trainer and his mother a steel and coal mine heiress. Violent conflicts with his father, who was intolerant of the artist’s budding homosexuality, dominated Bacon’s childhood. Bacon also suffered from childhood from asthma and had a severe allergy to horses and dogs.
By 1927, Bacon had left home. During a visit with a family friend to Weimar Republic-era Berlin, he was opened up to overwhelming cultural experiences. He then went to France where he spent time in Chantilly, and encountered Nicholas Poussin’s “The Massacre of the Innocents,” a work to which he later often referred. After seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s art in 1927, Bacon finally took up painting.
Moving to London in late 1928 he started work as an interior designer, setting up his studio in a converted garage in South Kensington.
In 1929, Bacon met Eric Hall, who would become his lover and patron, though this would be a torturous relationship. That winter he exhibited his design works for the first time, of rugs and furniture, along with “Watercolour,” his earliest known surviving painting
Interest in his designs, which showed influences by Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray, started to pick up. In 1930, he met Roy de Maistre, an Australian painter who would become a close friend and mentor and with whom he would share a studio for a while.
Throughout the 1930s, the fledging artist mounted several exhibitions of his works. His breakthrough came in 1944 with the triptych “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion,” in which he used painterly distortion and open-mouthed faces, two recurring themes in his later works. Hall gave the painting to the Tate Gallery in 1953.
“Painting,” which focused on human form morbidly distorted, is now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.In 1953, Bacon painted his masterpiece “Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” now commonly known as “The Screaming Pope.” Over the next 14 years, he would paint some 45 variations of the portrait.
Bacon died of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, in Madrid. His estate went to his long-time friend John Edwards, who donated the contents of the artist’s studio to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin. The studio has now been reconstructed inside the gallery.