Francis Bacon's artwork is known for its bold, austere, homoerotic and often violent or nightmarish imagery, which typically shows room-bound masculine figures isolated in glass or steel geometrical cages set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Francis Bacon is considered to be one of the most important painters of the figure in the second half of the twentieth century. There is hardly a museum in the world that doesn't own at least one of Francis Bacon's artworks, or wish they did. And invariably they are ghastly, beefy, ugly things even his friends refuse to hang in their living rooms. Often there is a discordant homosexual theme running through his triptychs, usually stopping just short of the obscene, but never in traditional "good taste." Recurring images of popes, sides of beef, wrestling nude men, distorted, cubistic to a point, truncated, but never without a keen sense of sharp insight into himself, others, and society in general.
Francis Bacon was born in Dublin to an Irish-born mother, and Australian-born English father. His father, Eddy Bacon, was a veteran of the South African Boer War who became a racehorse trainer. His mother Winnie, an heiress to a Sheffield steel business and coal mine, was noted for her outgoing, gregarious nature, a stark contrast to her highly strung and argumentative husband. Raised with three siblings, Francis Bacon is a descendant of the sixteenth-century statesman and essayist of the same name. A sickly child with asthma and a violent allergy to dogs and horses, Bacon was often given morphine to ease his suffering during attacks.
The family shifted houses often, moving back and forth between Ireland and England several times leading to a feeling of displacement that would remain with the artist throughout his life. Though Francis was a shy child, he enjoyed dressing up. This, coupled with his effeminate manner, often enraged his father and created a distance between them.
"I've never known why my paintings are known as horrible. I'm always labeled with horror, but I never think about horror. Pleasure is such a diverse thing. And horror is too. Can you call the famous Isenheim altar a horror piece? Its one of the greatest paintings of the Crucifixion, with the body studded with thorns like nails, but oddly enough the form is so grand it takes away from the horror. But that is the horror in the sense that it is so vitalizing; isn't that how people came out of the great tragedies? People came out as though purged into happiness, into a fuller reality of existence". - Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon left home at the age of sixteen and spent two years in Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France. He never painted until he was thirty, when in Paris, he saw an art exhibit by the painter Pablo Picasso . Picasso deeply effected both Bacon's style and his decision to become a painter. In the fall of 1929 Francis Bacon began to use oils and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, Bacon organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, London, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. He participated in a group show at Thomas Agnew and Sons, London in 1937. It was only after World War II that his paintings became known outside his immediate circle of friends. After the war, he came to prominence as a result of his grotesque Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (shown above). At this time he also began to paint the human figure. The pictures that made his reputation are of such subjects as a melting head in front of a curtain and a screaming figure crouching under an umbrella.
These extremely original works are impressive not only as powerful expressions of pain, but also for the magnificence of their presentation and professional quality. No one records the results of World War II's savage inhumanity as does Bacon in large part because he did not set out to paint it. Setting slabs of butchered meat upon the flanks of screaming human figures illustrates clearly that was is merely a symptom of a deeper human condition in his artwork "Painting" (shown here). Painting has a good claim to be Francis Bacon's Magnum opus. Originally to be a painting of a chimpanzee in long grass, parts of which may be still visible, Bacon then attempted to portray a bird of prey landing in a field. Bacon described it as his most unconscious artwork. The marks suddenly suggesting this image - at once magnificent and appalling.