Francis Bacon

(1909—1992) painter

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British painter, whose powerful and original pictures with their lurid colour and distorted figures convey a personal vision of the repulsiveness and horror of the human condition.

Bacon was born in Dublin, of English parents. With little formal training, he began painting in the 1920s in London, where he worked as an interior designer. In 1934, after failing to attract encouraging critical attention, he virtually ceased painting. However, early in 1945 his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, painted the previous year, was exhibited. Horrific and awe-inspiring, this triptych, now in the Tate Gallery, London, made him overnight the most controversial painter in Britain. In the 1950s and 1960s his work was shown in many important international exhibitions. Another triptych of studies for a crucifixion, painted in 1962, is now in the Guggenheim Museum, New York. The crucifixion in this work becomes a repulsive butchery enacted in some indefinably sordid arena. Other well-known works are Figure in a Landscape (1946) and the portraits that he painted from photographs and film stills, such as the screaming nurse from Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin and Pope Innocent X from the painting by Velázquez.

Of his later work John Rothenstein wrote in 1974, ‘The undisguised horrific subjects of many of his early paintings … have on the whole been replaced by subjects not intrinsically horrific but imbued with his obsession with human cruelty, vulnerability, loneliness and the pitiful indignity of men, and occasionally women, in solitude, unobserved.’

Subjects: Art.

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