Francis Bacon – Art and Life

 

Bacon in studio

This is my first major blog on the Art and Life of the artist Francis Bacon. I hope you enjoy it. I have simply titled it Art and Life for the moment. I may retitle it when I have something I feel more in keeping with the blog.

Francis Bacon’s legacy could be summed up in that he is widely regarded as Britain’s most important post war artist. For those of you who are aware of his life and art I hope I can share some ideas and information that perhaps you may not know. And for those who are new to his art and life I hope I can take you on a bit of a journey that will make you want to discover more. I intend to add blog entries as an ongoing project. Comments and feedback greatly appreciated!

Firstly I am going to start with a little background about Bacon. He was born in a nursing home in Dublin.

His father, Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer (“Eddy”) Bacon was born in Adelaide, South Australia to an English father and an Australian mother. Eddy was a veteran of the Boer War, and a racehorse trainer and his mother, Christina Winifred “Winnie” Firth was heiress to a Sheffield steel business and coal mine. It is believed his father was a direct descendant of Sir Nicolas Bacon, elder half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan statesman, philosopher and essayist.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon_(artist). Accessed on 3/02/2016

Being born in a nursing home raises some interesting questions and clues as to why Bacon later complained of periods of difficult breathing and often a feeling that there was always the presence of death around him. I believe the early memories of seeing others in ill health, decay, death and disease had a profound effect on his subconscious and his attitude to life and art. Interestingly the condition of the body and decay and disease were subjects that Bacon would explore in his art career.

In the 1910’s to 1920’s Ireland was experiencing volatile shifts in political feeling and the Bacon’s experienced this as did many families firstly through the 1916 Rising.

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish Republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War I.  It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Rising. Accessed 3/02/2016

Bacon as a shy but inquisitive young child was like many people in Ireland; witness to the violence and civil unrest that was happening to the country of his birth. I am sure that these early memories played a very large part in the formation of his art and response to the violence of the world and modern life which he developed as an artist later on.

Subsequent political upheaval in the shape of the War of Independence 1919-1921 and Civil War 1922-23  further added to a difficult and traumatic time for the people of Ireland and I am sure Bacon who was still a young man experienced a great deal of nervousness and worry about where his life might go and what the future may hold. For more information about the Easter Rising please read the wikipedia page Easter Rising at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Rising

Bacon did not attend a great deal of schooling during these early years as the family moved between Ireland and England. This was no doubt due to the political situation and its adverse effect on peoples livelihood. Bacon did attend the Dean Close school in Cheltenham where he boarded between 1924 and 1926. The British boarding school system has often been viewed as a very authoritarian environment where discipline and ‘keeping your nose clean’ is the way things should be done. Boarding schools are often harsh places where you are packed off to get that ‘proper education’.

It could be argued that Bacon’s parents were trying to protect their son from the troubles and horrors of Ireland’s political turmoil and difficulties that families faced in the aftermath of World War I. However I believe as is often the case with people from certain social classes that Bacon’s parents had other ulterior motives. Bacon enjoyed dressing up and would try on various clothes including dresses, hats and makeup. Was Bacon just enjoying fancy dress or was there something darker and deeper about the need to take on a guise or change oneself? Bacon as a child had spent a lot of time with his nanny Jesse Lightfoot and so I feel that being in the company of a woman for a long period could of developed a more feminine outlook on the world.

Bacon had moved around and never really settled. Big houses and opportunities to wander and explore were there to be taken and I am sure there was always lots of fancy clothes and jewellery to be tried on as his family and relations were pretty affluent. When you add to this that his parents were often not around its understandable that the young Bacon would entertain himself with whatever he could lay his hands on.

Bacon’s father by all accounts was a disciplinarian and formidable character whose personality and temperament did not lend itself to the idea of his son prancing around like a woman. Having been a veteran of the Boer War I am sure that the military life and regime had instilled a strong moral code and the idea of others not following this was quite abhorrent.

A story exists that Bacon’s father caught his son trying on various garments and makeup and had his son horsewhipped by the family’s groom. It was apparent at this stage that relations between Bacon and his father were at breaking point. There is also the suggestion that Bacon could of been buggered by staff as a form of humiliation and punishment for dressing up and behaving like a woman. In the upper classes buggery has often been used as a code and punishment. Did Bacon’s father sanction this or turn a blind eye? Its all speculation but Bacon in later years did surround himself with strong domineering figures whether it was lovers such as petty criminal George Dyer or various characters he would pick up on his forays around the streets of London and also the exotica of Paris, Berlin and Tangier.

As discussed previously the tensions in the Bacon family particularly between Bacon’s father and Bacon had really come to breaking point. It was around the late 1920’s maybe 1926 that Bacon’s father Eddy had lost his patience with his son who he thought had developed feminine notions and was being an emotional and public embarrassment.

He decided it was necessary to find him a mentor and guardian. Eddy approached the artist Roy De Maistre who was an Australian painter and someone he thought could straighten out his son and set him on a course in life that would move away from his feminine and troubling nature.

Below are examples of Roy de Maistre’s paintings.

Roy_de_Maistre_-_Rhythmic_composition_in_yellow_green_minor_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Roy de Maistre - Boat Sheds 1919

 

Roy de Maistre - Figure with parasol

We will see that Roy de Maistre had quite an influence on the young Bacon’s art work and that these early ideas would prove to be important right through his career.

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