10 fascinating facts about Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud has just become the most valuable artwork ever sold at auction, and for good reason. Bacon, an Irish-born painter, is considered one of the finest British artists to have ever lived, his work renowned for exuding raw emotion.

Bacon Freud triptych
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud painted a series of portraits of each other

But like all great artists, there is more to the man than his art. Paul Fraser Collectibles looks at the facts that made Bacon one of the most beguiling and enigmatic painters of the 20th century.

10. He destroyed most of his early works

Though he achieved recognition during his lifetime (1909-1992), Bacon's career got off to a slow start. Beginning in his early 20s, he was unsure of his own abilities and worked only intermittently until well into his 30s.

A ruthless self-critic, Bacon destroyed much of his early work, tearing his canvases so that they would never see the light of day. It wasn't until he found patrons in his wealthy lovers that Bacon saw any hint of recognition.

9. Bacon used the reverse of his canvases

Francis Bacon pope canvas auction
Torn fragments of Bacon's canvasses surfaced at auction in 2012

Also accounting for the lack of early work from the artist is the fact that he reused many of his canvases. At first, this was due to his lack of funds, but it later became his preference, and many masterworks are now painted on the unprimed reverse of the canvas.

"Well, I was living once down in Monte Carlo and I had lost all my money, and, I had no canvases left and so, the few I had I just turned them, and I found that... what is called the wrong side, the unprimed side of the canvas worked for me very much better," he explained in an interview with Melvyn Bragg in 1985.

"So I've always used them. So it was just by chance that I had no money to buy canvases with."

8. He was first employed as an interior designer

Francis Bacon interior design rugs
Bacon's rugs were inspired by his European travels

Having returned to London following a brief spell in Berlin and Paris, Bacon set up a studio in South Kensington. However, the studio was not intended for his artwork, but rather his work as an interior designer.

Characteristically, when Bacon discovered his passion for art, he destroyed most of his interior designs. However, two rugs that Bacon created surfaced at auction in 2012, yet uncertainty over their origins meant they went unsold.

7. Bacon had a noble ancestry

Sir Francis Bacon
Bacon is a descendant of Sir Francis Bacon, a renowned philosopher and statesman

Despite his modest upbringing in Dublin and later England, Bacon's ancestors were prominent members of the Elizabethan court. His father is believed to have been a direct descendant of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1540-1624), the first man to be created a baronet and half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the renowned philosopher, statesman and scientist who served as attorney general and lord chancellor.

6. His life is marked with violent relationships

Francis Bacon Lacy portrait
Bacon's Study for Portrait of PL

For much of his life, Bacon was involved with London's homosexual underworld. Having advertised himself as a "gentleman's companion" on the front page of the Times newspaper, he found numerous lovers, yet each one of his relationships was marred with violence or unhappiness.

Perhaps the most tempestuous of these was his relationship with Peter Lacy, in which the artist was frequently beaten and Lacy tore up some of his finest works.

Art historian John Richardson, who wrote a biography of Bacon, explained in the New York Review of Books: "Unfortunately, drink released a fiendish, sadistic streak in Lacy that bordered on the psychopathic.

"In a state of alcoholic dementia, he hurled Bacon through a plate glass window. His face was so damaged that his right eye had to be sewn back into place. Bacon loved Lacy even more. For weeks he would not forgive Lucian Freud for remonstrating with his torturer. Mercifully, Lacy moved to Tangier."

Bacon's portrait of Lacy appeared at Sotheby's in May with an estimate of $30m-40m, but failed to sell.

5. While celebrated now, his work was divisive

The raw, visceral nature of Bacon's work has divided both critics and the public for years. Like most great artists, he is not universally loved, but even those with a distaste for his paintings have come to recognise him for his importance to art.

Margaret Thatcher once described Bacon as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures". Yet Bacon maintained that it was not his intention to shock, stating: "You can't be more horrific than life itself."

The market for Bacon's work truly took off following his death in 1992, and reached the heights we know today in the late-1990s, when several examples of his work that were thought to have been destroyed were sold at auction with record-breaking results.

4. Bacon was obsessed with screaming

Francis Bacon's Screaming Pope
Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X is the best-known work of the 'Screaming Pope' series

In becoming the most valuable work sold at auction, Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud displaces Edvard Munch's The Scream, which sold for $119.9m in May 2012. Yet Bacon was also obsessed with the image of a screaming figure, and it became a major theme of his work.

The inspiration behind Bacon's screaming faces is said to stem from medical books, particularly a book on diseases of the mouth that Bacon bought in Paris in 1935, which remaining imprinted in his mind for the rest of his life.

Another major influence is Sergei Eisenstein's famed movie Battleship Potemkin (1925), with Bacon keeping a photographic still of a screaming nurse from the film in his studio.

3. The death of George Dyer profoundly affected Bacon's work

George Dyer Bacon Triptych
Triptych May-June 1973 was painted as Bacon reeled from the loss of his lover

Bacon's work has always been preoccupied with dark, haunting imagery, but it became dominated by death following the suicide of his lover George Dyer.

Dyer, a London criminal and alcoholic, was fragile in nature, and the once-bullied Bacon became the dominant power in the relationship, using his new-found wealth to control him.

"Bacon would goad George into a state of psychic meltdown and then, in the early hours of the morning - his favourite time to work - he would exorcise his guilt and rage and remorse in images of Dyer aimed, as he said, at the nervous system," wrote John Richardson.

Dyer eventually took an overdose of barbiturates and died in 1971. Bacon was deva

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