Francis Bacon was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 28, 1909, to English parents. He left home at the age of sixteen and spent two years in Berlin, and Paris. In Paris he saw an art exhibit by the painter Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Though he had never taken an art class, Bacon began painting with watercolors. He then settled in London, England, with the intention of establishing himself as an interior decorator and furniture designer. However, he soon turned to painting exclusively.
Bacon began oil painting in 1929. The few early paintings that survive (he destroyed most of them) show that he began as a late cubist. By 1932 he turned to a form of surrealism based partly on Pablo Picasso's works from about 1925 to 1928. Bacon began to draw attention in 1933 with his work Crucifixion, and the same year he took part in exhibitions in London
By the early 1950s Bacon had developed a more direct treatment of the human figure, working almost always from photographs rather than from real life. Images taken from newspaper clippings or from the photographs of humans and animals were sometimes combined with images from the well-recognized paintings of the old masters. Such a combination of images drawn from completely unrelated sources is characteristic of Bacon's work.
From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life in the early 1990s, the consistent theme of his work was the isolation and pain of the individual, with a single figure (usually male) seated or standing in a small, windowless interior, as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were artists, friends, lovers, and even himself. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands, and dust along with paint and brush.
A period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the few great representatives of the figure-painting tradition. During the last decade of his life major retrospective exhibitions were mounted at such sites as the Marlborough Gallery in New York, New York, in 1984, Moscow, Russia, in 1989, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1990. Bacon died of heart failure in Madrid, Spain, on April 28, 1992.