Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, graphic and emotionally raw imagery.
Bacon's painterly but abstracted figures typically appear isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. He began painting during his early 20s and worked only sporadically until his mid-30s. Before this time he drifted, earning his living as an interior decorator and designer of furniture and rugs. Later, he admitted that his career was delayed because he had spent too long looking for a subject that would sustain his interest.
His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, and it was this work and his heads and figures of the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s that sealed his reputation as a notably bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s, Bacon mainly produced portrait heads of friends. He often said in interviews that he saw images "in series", and his artistic output often saw him focus on single themes for sustained periods – including his crucifixion, Papal heads and later single and triptych heads series. He began by painting variations on the Crucifixion and later focused on half-human, half-grotesque portraits, best exemplified by the 1949 "Heads in a Room" series. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover George Dyer, Bacon's art became more personal, inward looking and preoccupied with themes and motifs of death. The climax of this late period came with his 1982 "Study for Self-Portrait", and his late masterpiece Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86. Despite his existentialist outlook on life expressed through his paintings, Bacon always appeared to be a bon vivant, spending much of his middle and later life eating, drinking and gambling in London's Soho with Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Daniel Farson, Patrick Swift, Jeffrey Bernard, Muriel Belcher and Henrietta Moraes, among others. Following Dyer's death he distanced himself from this circle and became less involved with rough trade to settle in a platonic relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. Since his death in 1992, Bacon's reputation has steadily grown. Despite Margaret Thatcher having famously described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures", he was the subject of two major Tate retrospectives during his lifetime and received a third in 2008.
Bacon always professed not to depend on preparatory works and was resolute that he never drew. Yet since his death, a number of sketches have emerged and although the Tate recognised them as canon, they have not yet been acknowledged as such by the art market. In addition, in the late 1990s, several presumed destroyed major works, including Popes from the early 1950s and Heads from the 1960s, surfaced on the art market.