Francis Bacon: Home, Estrangement and Identity

Bacon’s infant consciousness was forged for the most part in an Ireland ravaged by the fratricidal conflict of civil war, and Bacon’s later mature art could itself be argued to be a fratricidal war: Bacon the person observing the horrors of a wracked Ireland (as well as the degeneracy of Weimar Berlin later) and being perturbed; and Bacon the artist left with no choice but to re-experience, even revel in, the brutality of 20th-century life in order to reclaim control over his own identity. One can argue that Bacon was at existential war with himself: popes are depicted as an initial for providential guidance in a world of flux but are caged in distress in the paintings, as if, in the Nietzschean formulation, God had died.

Bacon_pope's_head_(detail_of_study_after_Velazquez)_1953
Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953)

He was close, however, to his maternal grandmother, Granny Supple, who manifestly disliked her son-in-law. Her house near Abbeyleix contained bow-ended rooms that would echo in the backdrops of his paintings. Farmleigh was a haven for the young Bacon, a frame – actually and within his paintings – for the processing of the experiences of his youth: the conflation of sex and violence, alienation or uncertainty of identity, and ambiguous sexual identity. Farmleigh, given his grandmother animus against his father, perhaps the site of the entertainment of thoughts and expressions hitherto repressed and the incipient conceptions of a means of the articulation of despair to prevent its envelopment of him. Of course, there is a danger of over-psychologising his work – he had an ardent interest in art-historical developments in perspective, the human form and compositional devices, and admired and studied Grunewald and Velazquez and others – but repeatedly Bacon has related his work to himself, his life and the sensations that the 20th century world provoked in him; the biographical approach cannot be discounted in his case as a methodology for looking at his paintings, authorial mischievousness notwithstanding. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the old and newer masters provided for Bacon a compositional and gestural basis for the physical conjurings of his sensitive mind that was ever looking at himself, the world and back again.

Farmleigh House was destroyed by fire and all that survives today are these gates.
Farmleigh House was destroyed by fire and all that survives today are these gates.

Life with his parents was difficult. His father was a belligerent and temperamental man; his mother inclined to self-absorption. Both these characteristics, bellicosity and introspection are to be seen in Bacon’s work: the repulsive mortification of flesh and even Bacon’s application of paint is at times violent, while the substratum of reflective angst and ennui centralises on Bacon’s place in the world. He even detaches the great tradition of the devotional triptych from religion and installs a new subject-matter of his obsessive foreboding: meaninglessness, the stench of flesh and horror – instead of the glory of God, the nauseating evil of man from which complicity is inescapable.

Bacon’s friend, Caroline Blackwood maintained “I was told by a homosexual friend of Francis’ that he’d once admitted that his father, the dreaded and failed horse trainer, had arranged that his small son spend his childhood being systematically and viciously horsewhipped by his Irish grooms.” If the motivation for such beatings was a vain attempt to remove Bacon’s ‘effeminacy’ and early homosexual tendencies, we then have evidence of the interchangeability, perhaps even synonymity, of sexuality and violence in Bacon’s early psyche.

When asked by David Sylvester whether the impulse behind his work was “the will to lose one’s will”, Bacon answered: “Absolutely. The will to make oneself completely free. Will is the wrong word, because in the end you could call it despair. Because it really comes out of an absolute feeling of it’s impossible to do these things, so I might as well just do anything. And out of this anything, one sees what happens”. The experience of peregrination of early family life and consequent destruction of geographical and kindred belonging ties in with violent imagery of many of the works as well as with a surreal(ist) aleatoric speculation on world, the ontology of man and the relation between the two. Shift in meaning from ‘willing freedom’ in positive sense to the despairing impetus toward a freedom that paralyses concerted aesthetic effort and leaves only the primitive urge to emote. Perhaps the spiritual crisis at the threshold between the Medieval and the Renaissance periods is also implicit in Bacon’s comment here: from the intense religiosity and prostrate devotion of man toward the promulgation of the idea of his upright grandeur and self-improvement, which itself precipitated stasis, loss of purpose and melancholy – in short, a terror of freedom and self-possession: he escaped from his father, Weimar Germany is utter freedom, licentiousness and violence – the choice seems to be between being the tortured slave of others or the owner of a masochistic liberty.

Francis Bacon 1909-1992
Francis Bacon 1909-1992

22 thoughts on “Francis Bacon: Home, Estrangement and Identity”

    1. It is indeed a shame that Farmleigh is no more. Keep an eye on our page, more to come on Francis Bacon in the near future.

  1. It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy.I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or advice.Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article.I desire to read more things about it!

  2. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  3. His or her shape of unrealistic tats were initially threatening. Lindsay utilized gun first basic, whereas this girl snuck outside by printer ink dog pen. I used absolutely sure the all truly on the shade, with the tattoo can be taken from the body shape. make an own temporary tattoo

  4. I was more than happy to find this site. I want to to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and i also have you saved to fav to see new things on your web site.

  5. Hi, I think your blog may be having browser compatibility issues. Whenever I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, excellent blog!

  6. Simply desire to say your article is as astounding. The clearness for your publish is simply cool and that i can assume you are a professional in this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to stay updated with imminent post. Thank you 1,000,000 and please keep up the gratifying work.

  7. Greetings, I do think your blog could possibly be having internet browser compatibility problems. Whenever I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, wonderful site!

  8. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and
    wanted to mention that I have really loved browsing your blog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I hope you
    write once more soon!

  9. Whats up this is kinda of off topic but I was
    wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise
    so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Ursula, we’re using Nicepage to create the website. It’s WYSIWYG but with options to alter the HTML which is a very handy option and easy to use. I hope this helps.
      Thanks for your visit and I hope you enjoy blogging, best of luck.

  10. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely believed you would probably have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

  11. Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your website is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *