Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

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Used French book.

Francis Bacon was an Irish born artist, famous for his screaming, emotive paintings. He spent most of his life in London's Soho, particularly at the French House pub on Dean Street with friends like Lucian Freud. An avid reader, literature shaped Bacon's art. 

“I call it my imagination material,” he told the French photographer Francis Giacobetti in 1991, during his last interview, referring to his immense collection of books and photographs. “I need to visualize things that lead me to other forms, that lead me to visualize forms that lead me to other forms or subjects, details, images that influence my nervous system and transform the basic idea.”

Bacon read, marked up and often memorized the works of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Balzac, Nietzsche, Georges Bataille, Freud, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Proust and others. In a 1966 interview with the British art critic David Sylvester, the painter said he knew some of them “by heart.”

Mr. Peppiatt, who befriended Bacon in 1963, added that some of the painter’s favorites — Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” — were “isolated peaks of literature, and Bacon was his own kind of isolated peak.”When his lover, George Dyer committed suicide in 1971 his painting became all the more sombre. 

Bataille’s writings helped open Bacon to his sexuality; Nietzsche gave him a path to existential meaning without religious conviction; and Aeschylus gave Bacon a grand way to conceive of his own personal tragedies, which included the death of his partner of about eight years, George Dyer, of a drug and alcohol overdose.

Bacon had a bleak outlook on life, Mr. Peppiatt said, and his favorite books and poems confirmed this.

The lesson of the literature Bacon loved, Mr. Peppiatt added, was “that we don’t really know why we’re here, that we invent our purposes, that we invent our drives and aims. And then, suddenly, we’re gone.”