Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

francis-bacon-screaming-popeFrancis Bacon (1909-1992) was an Irish figurative painter, influenced in his earlier years by Picasso and surrealism, whose unique expressionist style of painting, which emerged during the 1950s, featured pictures of people screaming or in pain, often portrayed inside bathrooms or cages. His tortured, nightmarish imagery projected a world of violent and shocking humanity. His talent as a modern expressionist artist blossomed alongside a shambolic personal life, marked by extreme sensuality, gambling and alcoholism. Even so, he was one of the most famous figures in Irish painting and a unique figure in the history of Irish art.

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin. His parents were English and moved several times between England and Ireland. A shy asthmatic child with an effeminate manner, Bacon had little formal schooling, or instruction in either drawing or painting, being taught instead by private tutors. In his late teens, his effeminacy led to the beginning of a lifetime of gay encounters with rich men, many of whom would contribute financially to his career as a painter.

Bacon’s first artistic successes were as a designer of furniture, rugs and interiors, although he maintained his interest and activity in fine art, being particularly stimulated by Picasso’s Neo-Classical drawings as well as his paintings like Les Baigneuses and Le Baiser. In 1933 he achieved his first real sale when his oil painting Crucifixion (1933) was bought by Sir Michael Sadler. In 1934 Bacon staged his first solo exhibition – “Paintings by Francis Bacon” – at the new Transition gallery, displaying seven oils and half a dozen gouache compositions. For a while he painted comparatively little after his solo show in 1934, and destroyed many of the canvases he did complete during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Not until 1944 did be begin to paint intensively again.

The oil and pastel painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) heralds the beginning of his mature style and includes elements that he returned to many times, such as: the triptych format, the open mouth, and the distorted imagery. When first exhibited in 1945, the painting caused a sensation, and established Bacon among art critics as a major (if controversial) exponent of modern art. Bacon followed this with another masterpiece, Painting (1946).

Francis Bacon 2In 1949, Bacon’s series of six paintings (Head I to Head VI) were exhibited at what was, in effect, a one-man show at the Hanover Gallery. with Study from the Human Body (1949) and Study for Portrait (1949) formed the core of the show with four other paintings by Bacon. His first solo show outside Britain was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York, and his first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1955.

Another landmark painting was his Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) which is a distorted version of the Portrait of Innocent X (1650, Doria Pamphili Gallery, Rome) painted by Diego Velazquez. The painting is one of 45 variations of the Velazquez picture which Bacon executed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. When quizzed as to his interest in the subject, Bacon said he merely wanted an excuse to use purple colours without being accused of being a Fauvist.

In 1962, the London Tate Gallery staged a Francis Bacon retrospective, which travelled to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Other significant exhibitions of his paintings were held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1963); the Grand Palais in Paris (1971); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1975); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1989); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1990); and the Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1996).

Bacon died from a heart attack on April 28, 1992, in Madrid, Spain. After his death, the contents of his chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, were donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Most Expensive Paintings By Francis Bacon include the following:

Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)
Sold by Christie’s New York, in November 2013, for $142 million. The world’s most expensive painting.

Triptych (1976)
Sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2008 for $86.3 million.

Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (1984)
Sold at Christie’s New York in 2014 for $80.8 million.

Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966)
Sold at Christie’s London in February 2014 for $70 million.

Study After Velazquez’ Portrait of Innocent X (1953)
Sold for $52.6 million at Sotheby’s New York, in 2007.

Three Studies for a Self Portrait (1985-6)
Sold for $34.4 million at Christie’s London in 2008.

Version No 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1968)
Fetched $19.3 million at Christie’s auction, New York, in 2006.

Crouching Nude (1952)
Sold for £8.3 million (Sotheby’s London, June 2011)

Study from the Human Body, Man Turning on the Light (1973)
Bought for £8 million at Christie’s London in 2007.

Portrait of George Dyer Staring into a Mirror (1967)
Fetched £4.9 million at Christie’s London, in 2005.

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Colin Middleton RHA MBE (1910-1983)

Colin Middleton 2The highly respected Irish landscape artist, figure painter and Surrealist Colin Middleton was born in Belfast in 1910. While he was learning painting and drawing at Belfast College of Art, he was heavily influenced by the work of the Dutch Expressionist Vincent Van Gogh. A deep thinker as well as a modern artist, Middleton’s early work contained non-naturalistic use of colour as well as symbolist even surrealist imagery, leading him to regard himself as the only Surrealist working in Ireland in the 1930s. His paintings first appeared at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1938, although perhaps because of his modern approach to art he only gained associate membership in 1969 and full membership in 1970.

In 1943, the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery arranged a vast, comprehensive one-man exhibition for Middleton – at the time the largest solo show seen. The following year, he held his first solo exhibition in Dublin at the Grafton Gallery in 1944. After this, he devoted himself full-time to painting. More exhibitions followed in Dublin, London and Boston. Post-war images of the Nazi death-camps was a strong influence behind the emotional content of some of Middleton’s greatest paintings. Another response to the war, was to look inwards, and his work in the early 1940s shows a new affection for Belfast life in his genre-paintings of street scenes.

In 1953, Colin Middleton moved to Bangor where he designed numerous theatre sets. He also exhibited alongside Daniel O’Neill at the Tooth Galleries in London. However, the later 1950’s were uncertain years. He was no longer represented by Victor Waddignton Galleries, with whom he had succeeded in the post-war years, and he also moved to Portrush, County Antrim, on the north coast. It was here that he began a parallel career as an art teacher that was to endure for the next 20 years. These changes coincided with shifts in Middleton’s painting, as he renewed and strengthened his interest in abstract art in which the theoretical use of colour began to dominate.

Colin Middleton 1A poet and musician, Colin Middleton also produced a vast range of other artwork such as murals, mosaics and posters. In 1969 he was awarded an MBE and appointed AHRA at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), with full membership in 1970. A major Colin Middleton retrospective was held in 1976, at the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. He continued to exhibit at the RHA until his death in 1983. His paintings, some of which command six figure sums at auction, are represented in a large number of public and private collections.

The auction record for a work by Colin Middleton was set in 2005, when his oil painting entitled Muriel was sold at James Adams, in Dublin, for €170,000.