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22 May 2015

Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) artist

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin to English parents. His father Anthony (1870-1940), a veteran of the Boer War, was a horse trainer; his mother, Winnie Firth (1884-1971) a heiress to a steel business and coal mine. Anthony was a direct descendent of the Nicholas Bacon, the elder brother of the philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Anthony's father had been offered a revival of the title of Lord Oxford, but declined for financial reasons. Anthony forced Francis, who was allergic to dogs and horses, to go fox hunting – which brought on his asthma.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Anthony Bacon was appointed to the War Office in London, which gave Francis experience of black-outs, bombed homes and the fear of Zeppelins. After the Armistice, their estate in Ireland was under fear of siege during the Civil War.

Francis had sex with the Irish stable boys, but on at least one occasion his father had the boy horsewhipped by the same stable boys. At a fancy-dress party Francis came as a flapper in a backless dress with long earrings – his father was disgusted. At age 16 Francis was discovered dressed in his mother's underwear and was banished from the house, and went to London. His mother provided a small allowance, which he supplemented with odd jobs, but more so from being picked up by wealthy men. He read some of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and lost the last remnants of religious belief. He articulated that life was futile unless you do something 'extraordinary'.

Anthony Bacon attempted to straighten out his son in 1926 by sending him to Berlin in the care of a distant uncle. However Francis soon bedded his uncle. In Berlin he was delighted to discover the transvestite bars such as the Eldorado and the rent-boy culture. He had no trouble being paid for his charms. He also discovered the Bauhaus Functional Art movement.

The uncle moved on, and Francis, now 17, moved to Paris, discovered Picasso, and learned French. He was impressed by Nicolas Poussin's Massacre of the Innocents (1630-31) and Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin (1925). He started to draw and to do watercolours.

At age 20 Bacon returned to London. He moved in with Roy de Maistre, an Australian artist and convert to Catholicism. They held a joint art exhibit. However, after a failed solo exhibition a few years later, Bacon destroyed most of his works, and painted very little for the next ten years.
He left de Maistre and made a living by petty theft, running a roulette wheel, odd jobs, but also by designing furniture. In 1929 he met Eric Hall who became his new patron/lover.

In 1940 Anthony Bacon died and his widow remarried and moved to South Africa. All the children except Francis, and Edward the youngest son who died in adolescence, moved to southern Africa. This left Francis feeling released.

By John Deakin, 1945
He was photographed in drag, along with other artist friends, by the photographer John Deakin 1945, the year that his first famous work, in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, was put on display a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe. Despite his atheism, Bacon would become especially known for paintings of the Crucifixion and of the Pope.

In 1952 Bacon met Peter Lacy, a former fighter pilot who had flown in the Battle of Britain. Their relationship was tempestuous. Lacy tore up Bacon's paintings, and beat him in drunken rages, in one case throwing him through a plate-glass window. After a few years Lacy moved to Tangier, becoming a regular at Dean's Bar, and Bacon made long visits. Lacy died of alcohol complications in 1962.

In 1964 30-year-old George Dyer, a petty thief from the East End, burglarised Bacon's flat, but was seduced instead. Bacon kept Dyer, providing him with enough money to stay drunk. Bacon did many paintings of Dyer, but Dyer did not appreciate them. He committed suicide in 1971 while in
self portrait 1971
Paris with Bacon for a retrospective exhibition.

In 1974 Bacon met John Edwards with whom he stayed until he died of cardiac arrest at age 82. Edwards inherited the multi-million estate and refused to let any of Bacons work be used in the 1998 biographical film.

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