Francis Bacon, 1909–1992

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged, raw imagery. He is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon said that he saw images “in series”, and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1930s Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

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Bacon was brought up in Ireland and England Francis along with his 4 siblings. He was brought up by Nanny Lightfoot in an upper class family involved with race horse training, Francis had chronic asthma which affected him all his life and led to his demise. Francis was chastised and beaten on his father’s instruction for dressing up in women’s cloths and make-up. As a gay man he was estranged from his family and was restless travelling widely including  Berlin, Paris, Egypt and Africa and changing jobs many times. Richer older men attracted to him often supported him. He tried painting in 1930’s but his paintings were not critically praised which put him off. A drinker and gambler. In the Second World War he was not fit to serve but was an air raid warden in the ARP, but the dust of bombed buildings exacerbated his asthma and he had to go and live in the country.

His tripdych painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. Gave him success in the art world. Drawing on Picasso and war time memories and many other influences Bacon developed a unique style.Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944.

Head VI, 1949Three_Studies_for_the_Portrait_of_Henrietta_Moraes 1963450px-Triptych_May-June,_1973

Head VI 1949                              Three studie Portrait Henrietta Maras, 1963                                                                                                Study Self Portrait 1985/86

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Tryptych for self portrait 1973                                                         Painting 1946





Portrait George Dyer (lover) riding a bicyle.

Recently psychologists analysing his paintings and comments on them suggest Bacon Bacon’s paintings to be the reflexion of a rare central perception disorder called dysmorphopsia.

Bacon’s comments on his perceptual experience are found in published interviews. In his discussions with renown art critic Jean Clair, Bacon reportedly stated: “When I am watching you talking—I don’t know what it is – I see a kind of image, which constantly changes: the movement of your mouth, of the head, somehow; it keeps changing all the time. I attempted to trap this thing in the portraits.” Another distinguished critic, David Sylvester, further quoted him as saying “[…] in my case, with this disruption all the time of the image—or distortion, or whatever you like to call it—it’s an elliptical way of coming to the appearance of that particular body… And it needs a sort of magic to coagulate colour and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only retrieved for one moment as that appearance. Still according to Sylvester, Bacon also acknowledged “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can. I don’t even know what half of them mean”

Gross image distortion is a rare clinical manifestation of disordered higher visual function. It presents as episodes of dynamic, ever-changing deformities, a condition referred to as dysmorphopsia (Kölmel, 1993).

Usually, the image initially appears normal but undergoes illusionary transformation if looked at for any length of time. Visages appear distorted, contracted or expanded, often in a dynamic manner; image may appear “cut up” and displaced .

The origin of Bacon’s visual percepts is unknown. Painter’s creativity has been ascribed to catalyzing effects of psychological disturbances generated by unhappy childhood .It is conceivable that cerebral injury had been caused during his childhood by violent blows reportedly inflicted by his father. Moreover, Bacon had asthma . Cerebral hypoxic-ischemic lesions could have occurred during asthmatic attacks, which were reported to be “so severe that Bacon would lie in bed for days, blue in the face, struggling for each breath” [1]

Bacon detailed description of distorted percepts point out the organic element in the grounds of his art. It might contribute to clarify Bacon’s “enigma” and assist art analysts to revisit foundations of Bacon’s major contribution to twentieth century painting. Furthermore, Bacon’s observational and artistic talents provide us with invaluable insights into the perceptual phenomena of dysmorphopsia. Whatever the exact reason Bacon’s art deriving from a troubled life and his impairment gives uis a great artistic heritage examining the anguish and suffering involved in the human condition.

The Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin purchased Bacon’s studio consisting of 7000 items and has recreated it in Dublin.

Dublin_Francis_Bacon_Gallery_The_Hugh_Lane749 Relocated Studio with 7000 items

[1] A neurological disorder presumably underlies painter Francis Bacon distorted world depiction Avinoam B. SafranNicolae Sanda,and José-Alain Sahel


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