Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Click on titles below to explore some of the significant periods in Bacon’s life.

Childhood in Ireland and England
1909–1925
Bacon with his mother, c. 1914

Francis Bacon was born on the 28th of October 1909, in a Dublin nursing home at 63 Lower Baggot Street. His father, Anthony Edward (‘Eddy’) Mortimer Bacon, was a retired captain in the Durham Light Infantry who had begun a new career as a horse-trainer. His mother, Christina Winifred Loxley Bacon (née Firth), inherited wealth from her family’s steel company.

Bacon’s father leads in a winner at Punchestown Races, 1910

Bacon’s parents, both English, lived at Cannycourt House in County Kildare in Ireland, to take advantage of the area’s equestrian facilities and the proximity of the Curragh. Their home was run by Eddy Bacon on military lines. Francis was asthmatic and allergic to horses and dogs. This was perceived by his father as a weakness. Bacon said he later initiated his first sexual encounters with stable grooms.

Bacon with his sisters Ianthe and Winifred, c. 1923
Bacon outside ‘Farmleigh’, Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Ireland, c. 1924

In 1915, one year after war broke out, the family moved back to 6 Westbourne Crescent in London, where Bacon’s father worked for the Territorial Force of the British Army. In 1918, Bacon’s parents moved to his grandmother’s house near Abbeyleix, called ‘Farmleigh’, where the young Francis enjoyed spending time with his cherished ‘Granny Supple’. He was fond of this house with its beautiful curved rooms, the memory of which he later suggested as the likely origin of the curved backgrounds in so many of his compositions. Subsequently the family moved to and from Ireland and England several times.

London, Berlin and Paris
1926–1929
Bacon at the Ritz Hotel, London, c.1927
(photographer unknown)

In 1926, the family moved back to Ireland, to Straffan Lodge, near Naas. Bacon left the family home and moved to London. With an allowance of £3 per week from his mother’s trust fund, Bacon spent the next three years drifting between London, Berlin and Paris.

In early 1927, Bacon embarked on a bizarre series of brief odd jobs in London; he worked as a switchboard operator at the Bath Club and a domestic servant and cook in Mecklenburgh Square.

Later that same year, in a last attempt to straighten out his son, Eddy sent Francis to Berlin with a relative. His guardian seduced and then abandoned him. Berlin in those years was one of the most exotic, exciting and sexually liberating destinations for homosexuals. Bacon remembered his Berlin experience as one of great decadence.

Bacon moved to Paris in the spring of 1927. He was aware of Paris’s pre-eminence as a cultural centre and as the capital of style. He met Yvonne Bocquentin, who took him under her wing, offering him a room at her house in Chantilly. She taught him French and introduced him to Parisian society. In Paris, he first encountered the work of Picasso at a Paul Rosenberg Gallery exhibition, which acted as the first real catalyst for Bacon becoming a painter. However, when he returned to London in late 1929, he moved into a converted garage at 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington, and established himself as a furniture and rug designer.

View of stairwell at Galerie Rosenberg, 1927
(photographer unknown)
Jessie Lightfoot, c.1945
(photographer unknown)

His nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, to whom he felt closer than his whole family, was also registered as living at 17 Queensberry Mews. It is believed that in the same year Bacon met Eric Hall, who would later become his lover and patron for over two decades.

Soho
Late 1920s onwards

Bacon in the Colony Room, 1985
© ITV Studios

Bacon moved to London in early 1927. A series of odd jobs led him to discover Soho’s homosexual underworld with its codes, bars and clubs.

Francis Bacon and Muriel Belcher
Photograph by John Deakin
Group portrait of artist painters (left to right) Timothy Behrens, Lucien Freud (1922 - 2011), Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992), Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews (1928 - 1995), having lunch at Wheelers Restaurant in Soho, London, 1963.
(photo by John Deakin Archive/Getty Images)
© The John Deakin Archive / The James Moores Collection

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Soho and its characters were a backdrop to what Bacon considered the most exhilarating period of his life. Bacon kept a disciplined routine, most days working alone in his studio from early morning to midday. Then, the artist would drift into Soho for lunch, adjourning into its drinking clubs and bars. Soho soon became his second home. He was a regular at Wheeler’s, his favourite seafood restaurant in Old Compton Street. Bacon discovered the Colony Room on Dean Street shortly after it opened in 1948. The cupboard-sized club, run by the extrovert Muriel Belcher, provided a place for artists to drink during the deserted afternoon hours when pubs were closed. Muriel soon became a cherished friend, and Bacon described the atmosphere of the Colony as “a place where people seem to lose their inhibition”. In this unconventional club, the artist held court for over three decades, surrounded by key habitués, his circle of friends and companions. From the Colony Room, Bacon’s typical Soho evenings would extend to places such as the Gargoyle Club, the French House or Charlie Chester’s Casino.

The French House, 2013
© MB Art Collection
Site of Charlie Chester's Casino (now Bocca di Lupo restaurant), 12 Archer Street, Soho, 2013
© MB Art Collection
Furniture and rug design
1929–1932
Roy de Maistre, Francis Bacon’s Queensberry Mews Studio, 1930, oil on canvas

Later in life, Bacon was very dismissive of his early designs, saying they were derivative of various French modernists, but actually he was among a very small number of English avant-garde designers at that time. The geometry of some of his furniture foreshadowed significant elements of his paintings. His experience with interior spaces and predilection for mirrors, tubular steel furniture, curtains and tassels later filtered into the iconography of his paintings. Bacon’s furniture and mirror designs were mainly influenced by the work of Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier. He was singled out in an article in The Studio magazine in August 1930 entitled “The 1930 Look in British Decoration”, for his impressively avant-garde furniture designs.

In November 1930, he held an exhibition of his furniture, rug designs and paintings at 17 Queensberry Mews West, London, together with paintings by Roy de Maistre and Jean Shepeard. Around 1931, Bacon lessened his involvement with interior design, to concentrate on being a painter.


Invitation card, November 1930
“The 1930 Look in British Decoration”, The Studio, August 1930
Roy de Maistre, Eric Hall, oil on canvas
17 Queensberry Mews West, London, 2011

 

Crucifixion
1933
Francis Bacon, Crucifixion, 1933

Bacon later disowned all the paintings he had made before 1944, although he had done at least one painting of great quality: the Crucifixion of 1933. Despite its debt to Picasso’s Boisgeloup crucifixions of 1930, in its monochrome painterliness and starkly affecting imagery we see Bacon brilliantly marking out his own territory. In 1933, Bacon’s Crucifixion, 1933 is published in Herbert Read’s book Art Now. Douglas Cooper, the writer and art-dealer, sells it through the Mayor Gallery to the prominent collector Michael Sadler. Ironically, this raised expectations of the young painter that were not fulfilled for another decade.

Picasso’s safety-pin recurred in several of Bacon’s paintings of 1949, including Study from the Human Body, 1949.


Detail of Picasso’s Boisgeloup crucifixions from Minotaure magazine

 

Breakthrough
1944
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944
Ground floor interior,
7 Cromwell Place
Photograph by E.O. Hoppé
© The E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection
Blue Plaque, 7 Cromwell Place

Between 1936 and 1944, Bacon did very little painting. In 1943, he moved into the ground floor at 7 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, London. There he painted Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, which he regarded as one of his most significant achievements. The first Bacon triptych caused a minor sensation, at least among London’s artistic cognoscenti, and announced the arrival of a radical and challenging artist when exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery in April 1945.

Site of Lefevre Gallery in 1945, London, 2013

 

Bacon interviewed by Thierry Ardisson and Franck Maubert on Bains de minuit
First broadcast: 9 October 1987
Director: Frank Lords
Producers: Thierry Ardisson and Catherine Barma
© Ina

Monaco
1946 to early 1950s
Hôtel Ré, the first official residence of Bacon when he moved to Monaco in 1946

Bacon always insisted that Painting 1946 was a prime exemplar of chance and accident operating in his work. He described this painting as “one of the most unconscious paintings I have ever done”. In 1946, he sold Painting 1946 to Erica Brausen, who would become his art dealer two years later, and with the proceeds from the sale Bacon immediately moved to Monaco. Two years later, she helped Bacon reach an important milestone in his career by securing its purchase by Alfred Barr for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was the first of Bacon’s paintings to enter a museum.

Monaco remained Bacon’s main residence from July 1946 until the early 1950s. There he painted, gambled and enjoyed the Mediterranean landscape along with the benefits for his asthma of the invigorating sea air. He continued to visit the Principality throughout his life. Bacon’s Monegasque years remained one of the periods of his life he talked about with the greatest enthusiasm.

Painting: Francis Bacon, Painting 1946
Francis Bacon, Painting 1946
Postcard of Monaco, sent by Bacon to Denis Wirth Miller in 1963

MB Art Collection

Find more information about Bacon’s Monegasque life by exploring the interactive map of Monaco.

The Hanover Gallery
1948–1958
Erica Brausen before La Tauromachie (1953) by Germaine Richier at the Hanover Gallery
Photograph by Ida Kar
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Erica Brausen, who became Bacon’s first art dealer in 1948, gave him a significant London exhibition in 1949 at the Hanover Gallery alongside Robin Ironside.

Hanover Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1949
MB Art Collection
Peter Lacy, Italy, 1954
Photograph by Francis Bacon

In the same year, having begun his first papal series three years earlier, Bacon completed Head VI in Monaco, his first surviving Pope, mainly inspired by Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. He was soon considered, if only by an informed minority, as Britain’s leading avant-garde painter.

In the early 1950s, Bacon engaged in an intense and destructive relationship with Peter Lacy, an ex R.A.F. pilot. Lacy was to remain the one great love of Bacon’s life.

In November 1950, Bacon re-established contact with his mother who now lived in South Africa. He stayed there for four months to spend time with his mother and sisters. There he visited Kruger National Park and was fascinated by wild animal movement and behaviour. Images of wildlife and landscape later filtered into his work. On his way back from South Africa, Bacon made a stopover in Cairo, where he greatly enjoyed ancient Egyptian art.

In the 1950s, Bacon launched many of the themes for which he became renowned including, besides the Popes, the Man in Blue series, the heads after William Blake, the primate series and the first self-portraits. Thanks to the Hanover Gallery, his work was exhibited in France, Italy and the USA and, in 1955, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London mounted the first Bacon retrospective.

Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1949

The backgrounds of some paintings from the early 1950s, including flattened strips of coast road with palm trees, were derived from coloured picture-postcards of Monte Carlo. In March 1957, he exhibited his Van Gogh series at the Hanover Gallery in London. This series, based on Van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, 1888 announced a more vibrant palette and bolder brushstrokes than had characterized his hitherto generally quite sombre oeuvre.

Francis Bacon in his studio at 9 Overstrand Mansions, 1960
Photograph by Cecil Beaton
MB Art Collection
© Copyright Sotheby’s, The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive

 

Marlborough Fine Art
1958–1992
Frank Lloyd and Francis Bacon during the Grand Palais exhibition preview (far left: Jacques Duhamel), 26 October 1971
Marlborough Fine Art, London, 2013

As he approached his fiftieth birthday, Bacon began to take stock of his career; though he had met with some success, he was still frequently in debt, mainly due to gambling losses. In October 1958, he suddenly left the Hanover Gallery and moved to the Marlborough Fine Art, whose founders Frank Lloyd and Harry Fischer had promised to build up his international profile. This they did, and Bacon’s first major retrospective, held at the Tate Gallery in May 1962, which Marlborough had helped to secure, signalled a steady rise in the trajectory of his international reputation.

Gilbert Lloyd, who joined the gallery in 1962, assumed control of Marlborough Fine Art in London from 1972.

Bacon continued to be represented by Marlborough until the end of his life.

Francis Bacon and John Edwards, Berlin, February 1986.
Photograph by Gilbert Lloyd, Nassau, Bahamas.
Reece Mews
1961
Bacon in his studio, 7 Reece Mews, 1979
MB Art Collection
© Edward Quinn

After his peremptory departure from the 7 Cromwell Place studio in 1951, prompted, he said, by the death of Jessie Lightfoot, Bacon was without a permanent base for ten years and worked in a number of different studios until he settled in 7 Reece Mews in the Autumn of 1961. It became his London studio and main living quarters for the rest of his life. He said, “I knew at once I could work in this place”.

7 Reece Mews stairway
Photograph by Perry Ogden
7 Reece Mews
Photograph by Perry Ogden
George Dyer, 7 Reece Mews, c. 1964
Photograph by John Deakin

7 Reece Mews, 2013

Brian Clarke talking about the importance of 7 Reece Mews.
From Bacon’s Arena documentary, 2005

Tate Gallery retrospective
1962
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962
Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1962

MB Art Collection

On the 24th of May, Bacon had his first retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery which comprised 91 pictures. The artist painted Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962, for this show.

On the opening day of the show Bacon received a telegram informing him of the death, the previous day, of his companion Peter Lacy, in Tangier.

Cathy Cunliffe: Tate Gallery exhibition, London, 1962
The Grand Palais retrospective
1971

A Francophone and an ardent Francophile, Bacon was as devoted to French culture in general as to its art. He looked to the French as the ultimate arbiters in virtually every domain that interested him. His legendary retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in October 1971, probably afforded him the greatest satisfaction of any of his exhibitions. Picasso was the only other living artist who had received this honour, in 1966. The exhibition was a triumph, but tragedy struck two days before the exhibition preview, when his companion George Dyer was found dead at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères, where they were staying.

Bacon at the Grand Palais entrance, 1971
MB Art Collection
© André Morain

As a moving memorial to his lover’s death, Bacon painted a series of three triptychs in 1971, 1972 and 1973, known as the ‘Black Triptychs’.

Preview of the Francis Bacon retrospective at the the Grand Palais, 26 October 1971, from left to right: Bernard Anthonioz, Francis Bacon, Gaston Palewski, Jacques Duhamel, Reynold Arnould, Blaise Gautier and Jacques Rigaud
MB Art Collection
© André Morain
Michel Leiris and Isabel Rawsthorne at the exhibition opening dinner at the Train Bleu restaurant, 26 October 1971
MB Art Collection
© André Morain
John Russell, Denis Wirth Miller and Erica Brausen at the exhibition opening dinner at the Train Bleu restaurant, 26 October 1971.
MB Art Collection
© André Morain
Hôtel des Saints-Pères, Paris, 2013
© MB Art Collection
Francis Bacon, In Memory of George Dyer, 1971
Parisian period
1974–1987
Francis Bacon and Eddy Batache in Bacon’s studio, 14 Rue de Birague, Paris, July 1986
MB Art Collection
Francis Bacon with Reinhard Hassert and Denis Wirth Miller, Paris, November 1983
MB Art Collection

Since the late 1920s, Bacon was closely acquainted with the ‘City of Light’, which he loved above all other cities. The whole experience of Paris, with its intellectual excitement, sexual freedom and savoir-vivre, made a lasting mark on him.

In 1975, he took a studio-apartment at 14, rue de Birague, in the historic Marais district and deepened his friendship with Michel Leiris and Jacques Dupin. Sonia Orwell, who was part of Bacon’s circle of friends from the 1950s, helped introduce him to ‘Le Tout-Paris’ of artists and writers in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1975, he met art historian Eddy Batache and art consultant Reinhard Hassert, who were to become two of his closest friends and confidants until the end of his life. In January 1977, the Galerie Claude Bernard showed twenty recent works by the artist. This now-legendary show was so successful that the police had to cordon off the rue des Beaux-Arts to keep the immense crowds coursing towards the gallery under control. His exhibition at Galerie Lelong in September 1987 further cemented Bacon’s living legend status in the city.

Though he continued to visit the French capital until his death, he left his Parisian studio in 1987.

Francis Bacon in front of Triptych (1976), Claude Bernard Gallery, Paris 1977
MB Art Collection
Francis Bacon, Galerie Lelong, 1987
MB Art Collection

 

Tate Gallery retrospective
1985
John Minihan: Bacon, with Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth Miller, on the opening day of his Tate retrospective, 21 May 1985

In May 1985, Bacon was granted the rare accolade of a second Tate retrospective. One hundred and twenty-five of Bacon’s paintings were shown. His international reputation as Britain’s greatest living figurative artist was now assured.

Madrid
Late 1940s to 1992
Bar Cock, Madrid, 2013
Bacon’s favourite table at Bar Cock,
Madrid, 2013

Bacon began visiting Madrid and the Prado in the late 1940s. His first show in Madrid was held at the Juan March Foundation in 1978.

Bacon sitting on the wall of the Prado Museum, Madrid, 1956
Photograph by Peter Lacy
MB Art Collection
Photograph: Bacon at the Prado Museum's Velázquez retrospective, Madrid, 1990
Bacon at the Prado Museum’s Velázquez retrospective, Madrid, 1990
(Photographer unknown)

In 1987, Bacon engaged upon a relationship with a young and handsome Spaniard. He started spending a significant amount of time in Spain with his new companion, discovering the Spanish way of life, and even learning Spanish. In the evenings, Bacon often held court at the Bar Cock, a baronial-style bar frequented by actors and artists. Bacon's favourite seafood restaurant in Madrid was La Trainera.

Bacon’s numerous trips confirmed an abiding interest in both the city of bullfights and the artist he worshipped above all: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. In 1990, Bacon travelled to Madrid for the outstanding Velázquez exhibition at the Prado.

Photograph: Exterior, with neon sign, of La Trainera restaurant, Madrid, 2013
La Trainera, Madrid, 2013
© MB Art Collection
His last painting
1992
Bacon’s last painting, 1992
Photograph by Perry Ogden

During his last year, Bacon had grown weaker and had difficulty breathing due to asthma. In April 1992, the artist travelled to Madrid, against his doctor’s advice, to visit José Capello. Shortly after his arrival, he fell critically ill and was taken to the Clinica Ruber with pneumonia aggravated by asthma. There he died of a heart attack on 28th April, at the age of 82.

In London his last large canvas, poignantly a self-portrait, laid unfinished on an easel at Reece Mews. In a tribute, Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate Gallery, declared: “Francis Bacon was not only the greatest British painter of his generation, he was also internationally recognised as one of the outstanding artists of the post-war era”.

Bacon donated the whole of his estate, which included Reece Mews, to his companion John Edwards. In 1998, at the request of John Edwards, Brian Clarke was appointed sole executor of The Estate of Francis Bacon by the High Court.

John Edwards
Photograph by Francis Bacon