Francis Bacon


"[Bacon is] quite simply the most extraordinary, powerful and compelling of painters … His images short-circuit our appreciative processes. They arrive straight through the nervous system and hijack the soul." - Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Art Critic

Born in rural Ireland in 1909, Francis Bacon was a maverick who rejected the popular artistic style of the era , abstraction, in favour of a more distinctive and disturbing realism.


Bacon did not become an artist through any traditional route: he didn’t receive any artistic education, nor serve a conventional art apprenticeship. In fact, he began his early professional life working in interior design, but decided to change course and take up painting after seeing an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work at Paul Rosenberg’s gallery in the late 20s. Bacon acknowledged Picasso as the key influence and reference point to his style and work, indicating that it was Picasso who showed him the ‘possibilities of painting’. 


However, growing up, Bacon also had a troubled childhood and ambivalent relationship with his parents – especially his father, who struggled with his son’s emerging homosexuality. At the age of 16 he ran away from rural Ireland, and drifted through the late 1920s and early 30s in London, Berlin, and Paris; living off occasional jobs and dodging the rent. This problematic childhood and unsettled lifestyle can at times be seen through his works.


It was in 1944 that his work was met with critical success and established his reputation with the unveiling of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Head of Displays and Lead Curator of Modern British Art at Tate Britain Chris Stephens called the work, ‘a turning point in the history of British art. It’s one of the masterpieces in the Tate’s collection…It’s a work that was seen immediately as a brutally frank and horrifically pessimistic response to the Second World War. It was first exhibited in April 1945, and though the two were not directly related, the fact that this painting was unveiled the month that the concentration camps were revealed to the world, inevitably led to the way it has been understood as a statement of human brutality and suffering.’ 


Today, he is recognised as one of the most important painters of the twentieth century.