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A Brief Homage to Francis Bacon on St. Patrick's Day.

Updated: May 7, 2021

Well, it's St. Patrick's Day, and when I look at the work of the best-selling painter of Irish descent, whose Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142,405,000.00, I am indeed GREEN with envy. So let's take a look at Francis Bacon (1909-1992), a School of London painter born in Dublin, whose lifetime total sales add up to $1, 711,336,388.00.

Back in the dark ages of my personal art awareness, I saw my first Francis Bacon exhibition, which was the second retrospective of his work offered by the Tate in London, 1985. Walking into a world of elegantly painted distortions, tortured figures, and screaming mouths (a comment perhaps on the power of words, especially lies?) was more than an amazement. I say that not just because of the disturbed faces, but also because of the beautifully handled paint that seemed rubbed on rather than stroked on by brush. However, his work also displayed random splashes, thrown paint or scrubbed areas, all of which created points of curiosity for the viewer. The artist once said, "...half of my painting is disrupting what I can do with ease" (Ades). This sounds like a painter who knew himself well and liked the challenge of throwing an occasional monkey wrench into his own work.

One of the things he seemed to do with ease was use beautiful colors, many of which are pastels. You can see that here, though in low resolution, in his Studies for a Self-Portrait (1979).

The smooth glide of the paint, as though smeared, but smeared with a purpose, can be seen in the series above. The counterpoints to that soft smearing are the quite distinct shirt collar and the hairy eyebrows. His placement of a figure or a face in relationship to the space around it is also done in both usual and unusual ways. In this series, shown here almost as a triptych, the face on the left is placed to the far left, and the face on the right is placed to the far right, leaving even more space around the central image, placed squarely in the center of its canvas. It comes together in a less monstrous way than a combination of the right and left portraits, making a reasonable amalgam of the two distinct sides of one face. This was done, of course, by a man who claimed to have never liked his face.

Bacon is quite famous for his many portraits of Pope Innocent X which he did from 1949 to the mid-1960s. Lots to look at here, especially the use of that hellish purple on what seems to be a screaming, spectral entity. This play off of Diego Velasquez' famous portrait of Innocent X, is briefly discussed in this article by Phaidon publishing

Since this is a brief homage and his long career produced so many works, I'd say the best way to see Bacon's work online is to go to his website: click Art, then click Paintings to see a decade-by-decade collection of his work, starting in the 1920s.

And with that I hope that St. Patrick is well honored by this homage to Ireland's great painter.

So what artist would you honor on St. Patrick's Day or some other holiday? Log in and tell us.

Quote taken from article by Dawn Ades for the Tate Gallery's Second retrospective

Francis Bacon, a portrait by Reginald Gray, is in public domain. Studies for a Self-Portrait by Francis Bacon from Wikipedia, and the comparison of the two portraits of Pope Innocent X (Phaidon) are used for informational purposes only in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

For more on Marjorie Vernelle, see the author page at

She also has an engaging art history blog that talks of painting and wine on

© Marjorie Vernelle 2019

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Marjorie Vernelle
Marjorie Vernelle
Mar 18, 2019

I think your first experience of Bacon was a bit like mine. I walked into the Tate to this grand retrospective of an artist whom I did not know (as I say, I was in my Dark Ages of art awareness) and got my head turned completely around. I didn't get a headache, though, because I loved how he painted. I loved the effects of how he moved paint around and his compositions. One memory that I just checked out was of the opening credits of Last Tango in Paris, where yes, I remembered correctly that they used paintings by Bacon and of course, Gato Barbieri's jazz tango.

As for Irishmen who lived somewhere else, well, the Irish claim him.…


Mar 17, 2019

Someone to honor on St Patrick's Day: Patrick himself had an interesting life, featuring pirates and snakes among other creatures, but he was actually Welsh (maybe), not Irish. So how about honoring someone who was Irish but lived elsewhere. G B Shaw? Samuel Beckett? Maybe, but their art was not very visual. Actually, Marjorie, I think you did an excellent job with Bacon.

I was taken to a show of Bacon's work in Chicago when I was 18. Was completely unprepared as I hadn't realized there was a 20th C Francis Bacon. Also hadn't realized that that OTHER Bacon wasn't in fact a visual artist. Was expecting something politely Elizabethan. My headache lasted for DAYS! Your excellent blog entry here…

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