Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909. Inspired by travels to Berlin and Paris during the 1920s, he started his career as a furniture designer. Eventually, following the example of his hero Pablo Picasso, he began to paint. His earliest major artworks — including the seminal triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion (1944) and Painting (1946) — confronted the state of humanity in the years surrounding the end of World War II. These existential paintings would ultimately give rise to his landmark series of ‘screaming Popes’, based on Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650).
Bacon also painted his close circle. His tempestuous lover Peter Lacy became his first major living subject, inspiring works including Two Figures (1953) and the Man in Blue paintings. During the 1960s, his cast of Soho comrades took centre stage, many of them regulars at Muriel Belcher’s Colony Room Club. Among them were his friends Isabel Rawsthorne and Henrietta Moraes, fellow artist Lucian Freud and his great love George Dyer. Working from photographs, he painted single heads, full-length portraits, diptychs and triptychs. In 2013, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) sold for $142,404,992 at Christie’s, achieving not only a world record for the artist but for any artwork ever sold at auction at that time.
After Dyer’s tragic death in 1971, Bacon fell into a period of mourning, pouring his grief into his haunting ‘black triptychs’ and obsessive self-portraits. As the decade drew to a close, however, he found new happiness with his companion John Edwards, who became an important subject. His late works were characterised by increasingly sparse, minimal surfaces that stripped away the excesses of his former years. Bacon died in 1992.
Excavation of the artist’s studio at Reece Mews revealed the extraordinary breadth of his visual imagination. There were film stills, anatomical photographs, pages ripped from art history books and pictures of animals. There was T. S. Eliot, Shakespeare and Aeschylus. Literature, cinema, painting and photography mingled as one, charting life, death, love and tragedy. Bacon said that images fell into his mind ‘like slides’, funnelling through his nervous system and onto canvas. Today, his work continues to inspire artists including Adrian Ghenie, Jenny Saville, Damien Hirst and Cecily Brown.
Study for Bullfight No. 2, from Miroir de la tauromachie (Mirror of the Bullfight)