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Francis Bacon 1909 - 1992

Francis Bacon's work displays a darkly unique perspective on realism that has rewarded him with a momentous reputation. Since his death in 1992 his work has sky-rocketed in value. In 2013 Triptych, 3 Studies of Lucian Freud, oil on canvas, (below) sold for $142 million at Christie's New York.

Born in Dublin 1909 to an English family, Bacon had a problematic childhood. After spending years between England and Ireland. With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 they moved to London. Bacon was a shy character who struggled with his sexual identity. He repeatedly played truant from school. At 17 his authoritarian father exiled him from the family home after finding him dressed in his mother’s underwear.

Bacon had little education and a weekly allowance of £3 from his mother. After a difficult year in London, he travelled to Berlin and then Paris, where he discovered the burgeoning underground gay scene and was inspired to start drawing and painting after seeing a Pablo Picasso exhibition at Galerie Paul Rosenberg.


Returning to London the following year, he moved to South Kensington with his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. At the time, he worked as for a modernist furniture and interior designer. He struck up a relationship with his patron, Eric Hall, who was his lover and supporter between 1934 -1950. As well as designing, Bacon continued to paint. His work was heavily influenced by Old Masters, such as Velazquez, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt, though he also employed aspects of Cubism and Surrealism in his work. In 1934, Bacon organised a presentation at the Transition Gallery, which was heavily criticised by the public; in 1936, his work was then rejected from the International Surrealist Exhibition. Due to his resulting feelings of dejection, he destroyed many of his paintings and no finished works of his exist from the years 1937 to 1941.

'Picasso is the reason why I paint...'


Due to his asthma, in 1939 Bacon was exempted from military service so did not serve in the Second World War. In 1941 he met Lucian Freud. The works created over these years marked  a turning point in his artistic career. Bacon became central to an artistic community in post-war Soho, which included Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, the photographer John Deakin, Henrietta Moraes, Isabel Rawsthorne and others. On Graham Sutherland’s recommendation, Bacon was taken on by the Hanover Gallery and sold his first painting to the Museum of Modern Art in 1948. Bacon gambled away the money during a trip to Monte Carlo.

During the early '50s, Bacon began to focus on the theme of entrapment and religion. His paintings of popes alternated with those of contemporary figures in suits and were the works that established his reputation. During this period, Peter Lacey became Bacon’s lover and inspired homoerotic images of wrestlers. In 1954, he shared the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Freud and Ben Nicholson. Two years later, he reunited with Paul Lacey in Tangiers and met other writers and artists. Bacon returned there regularly until Lacey’s death in 1962. 

'I use the frame to see the image – for no other reason. I know it’s been interpreted as being many other things… I cut down the scale of the canvas by drawing in these rectangles which concentrate the image down. Just to see it better.'

In 1957 an exhibition of Bacon’s at the Hanover Gallery marked his transition from monochromatic to bolder colour in his works.  He moved to Marlborough Fine Art who paid off his gambling debts, gave him larger exhibitions and ensured that the artist didn’t destroy too many of his works.


By 1961, Bacon had settled again in South Kensington where he remained for the rest of his life. In the following year, the Tate Gallery organised a major touring retrospective which displayed his use of the triptych which would become his characteristic format. At the time he began interviewing with critic David Sylvester which would constitute the canonical text on his own work. 

'You know in my case all painting – and the older I get, the more it becomes so – is accident.'

In 1963-64, Bacon's international reputation was finally confirmed with another retrospective, this time at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  He was awarded a large Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971. The show was marred by personal tragedy for Bacon; on the eve of the opening his long-time lover, George Dyer, committed suicide.

In the 1970s, Bacon regularly travelled to New York and Paris. He had also begun a new relationship with companion and model Jon Edwards. Over the next decades, Bacon continued to work and exhibit. His works from this period were dominated by the triptych with a changed use of space and colour.


Bacon died on a visit to Madrid in 1992 having contracted pneumonia, exacerbated by his asthma.


Triptych, three studies of Lucian Freud, a set of 3 original lithographs, 1966, for sale at Modern Originals


Lucian Freud by John Deakin, 1964 - Bacon liked to work from photographs rather than life.

Copyright the Francis Bacon estate.

Modern Originals collects and owns original lithographs, giclees and limited edition prints by all of the artists represented here - only some of which are for sale online. Please get in touch if you would like to see our wider collection. 

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