BACON, FRANCIS (1909-1992)
Plaque erected in 2017 by English Heritage at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, SW7 3HE, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
FRANCIS BACON 1909-1992 Painter lived and worked here 1961-1992
Francis Bacon was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at his former home and studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington. Bacon worked at the studio for over 30 years and it was here he produced some of his most important later works.
Francis Bacon was born in Dublin to wealthy English parents. He was thrown out of the family home in 1926 when his father found him dressing up in his mother’s underwear. A spell in London was followed by trips to Berlin and Paris, where Bacon immersed himself in the decadent nightlife and started to develop an interest in art and design.
Returning to England, he began his career as a designer and interior decorator, creating modern furniture, rigs and decorative paintings. Bacon soon turned to painting, however, and exhibited his first significant works at the Mayor Gallery in London in 1933.
Bacon’s work was famously rejected by the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936 on the grounds that it was insufficiently surreal. Ironically Bacon’s figurative portraits became associated with a form of contemporary realism – one that reflected the horrors of the Second World War. He established his reputation with the disturbing triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), which depicted three violently contorted, barely-human figures against a fiery orange background. Bacon believed that paintings should act as an assault on the nervous system rather than be understood.
He held his first one-man show at the Hanover Gallery in November 1949 and others followed in New York (1953) and Paris (1957). His first solo institutional exhibition was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1955.
REECE MEWS YEARS
Bacon moved into 7 Reece Mews in 1961 and lived and worked there until his death 31 years later. Originally built as a stable block for the architect Sir Charles Freake, it was a highly productive creative space for Bacon, and one that he was unable to replicate elsewhere. Soon after moving in he completed his first large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), which formed the climax of his retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1962. Further retrospectives were held for Bacon at Grand Palais in Paris in 1971 and at the Tate again in 1985.
Two of these retrospectives were marred by tragedy. On the eve of the Tate exhibition in 1962 Bacon learned that his partner of ten years, Peter Lacy, had been found dead, apparently from over-drinking. In 1963 Bacon began a relationship with George Dyer, who became a frequent subject in Bacon’s portraits. Tragically, history repeated itself and Dyer committed suicide in their Paris hotel room the night before Bacon’s 1971 Grand Palais exhibition.
Bacon was a complex and often controversial figure. During the 1950s and 1960s he was at the centre of the renowned Soho Colony Room drinking club whose other members included Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Henrietta Moraes and John Deakin. An early morning worker, Bacon would paint exhaustively at Reece Mews before making his way to Soho for a day of drinking and gambling. Art critic Jerry Saltz observed in 2009 that:
Those who knew the artist – some of them his friends – described him variously as ‘devil,’ ‘whore,’ ‘one of the world's leading alcoholics,’ ‘bilious ogre,’ ‘sacred monster,’ and ‘drunken, faded sodomite swaying nocturnally through the lowest dives and gambling dens of Soho.’
Bacon died of pneumonia complicated by asthma in 1992 while visiting a friend in Madrid. He is buried in the city’s Almudena cemetery.