Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter, best known for his expressive, emotional, grotesque and raw imagery.
In September 1959 Bacon allegedly had a £5,000 gambling debt, and with his first one man show at the Marlborough Gallery in London rapidly approaching, he had only completed six paintings. A sense of anxiety and panic had uncharacteristically drawn Bacon’s attentions away from the distractions of metropolitan London lifestyle to the coastal town of St Ives in Cornwall.
While in the Sloop pub, a popular hangout amongst the artist colony of St Ives, Bacon had a chance meeting with William Redgrave whom he had met six years earlier in Caves de France in Soho. Redgrave then offered Bacon a six months’ tenancy in Studio 3 at Porthmeor Studios.
Bacon’s studio was next door to Terry Frost, with Patrick Heron’s one door further down. After a few cordial meetings Heron invited Bacon to his house at Eagles Nest for Christmas. Bacon was known as a brilliant talker and notorious for heavy drinking. Heron recalls that Bacon swayed to his feet to light the pudding, and sloshed half a bottle of brandy over it with the words, “I’m very good at starting conflagrations!”
A change in Bacon’s paintings was evident when he returned to London in January 1960, and an intensity of colour was creeping into his work that can be contributed to his exposure to artists such as Terry Frost or Patrick Heron. Bacon’s paintings in the 1950s were some of his best-painted, but almost all in monochrome. After 4 months in St Ives he started using constructed layers and stripes of colour which can be seen in ‘Reclining Figure 1961’ and holds a slight resemblance to Heron’s late 50s Stripe paintings.
By the time he left his Porthmeor studio, Bacon had painted at least twenty canvases, but destroyed all but six, which include ‘Lying Figure’ (1959), ‘Sleeping Figure’ (1959) and ‘Head of Man’ (1960).
Text by Ben Crack