Francis Bacon, Freud, and Shapers of Modernity

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It’s easy to think of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat or Edward Degas and Édouard Manet as examples of famous and influential artists who got along well with others in their field, but there were also fierce rivalries, challenging competitions, and an endless supply of insults hurled at one another. The connection between Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, two of the most well-known painters of all time, formerly seemed to be incongruous.

How Lucian Freud Lived

In the summer of 1922, Lucian Michael Freud was born in Berlin, Germany. Freud was the grandson of renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and the son of Jewish Austrian architect Ernst Freud. Early in the 1930s, his family emigrated to England, where Lucian went to school at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham and the Central School of Art in London. After serving in the Merchant Navy during World War II, Lucian Freud started working as a full-time painter. Early paintings by Freud included surrealist elements, but as his style developed, his work tended to lean more toward realism.

Lucian Freud asked friends, family members, and sometimes even strangers to stand for him so that he could paint strong, dramatic portraits of live people over a long period of time. Although Freud often depicted both men and women in their undies, he avoided the overdone sexiness of nude paintings by portraying the body in a more hideous and sometimes decayed light.

A Biography of Francis Bacon

In 1909, British parents gave birth to Francis Bacon in Dublin, Ireland. ShaperoModern note that the other Francis Bacon, a well-known philosopher, Attorney General, and Lord Chancellor of England, lived in the mid-1500s and early 1600s before dying in 1626. Bacon was both his namesake and a descendant. Due to his terrible asthma, Bacon was educated at home rather than attending school while growing up in both England and Ireland. His connection with his violent father throughout his boyhood and his coming of age amid the Irish nationalist struggle made for an at best tumultuous upbringing. Bacon endured increasing levels of abuse from his father throughout his youth, including being spanked by stable boys on his father’s orders.

Bacon was expelled from his family at the young age of 17 when his father saw him trying on his mother’s clothes. The teenage artist made the decision to visit Berlin and France since those countries were far more tolerant of his homosexuality. Bacon returned to London in the late 1920s and started a career as both an interior designer and a painter. Critics took notice of his work, and Bacon started selling his artwork at shows as his notoriety progressively increased.

In a peculiar style inspired by surrealism, his paintings distort their themes, often in a disturbing way. Bold, vivid colors blend together in Bacon’s works to produce the recognizable shadows and highlights of the human face. Strong emotions may be seen on his canvases in both the figures’ features and the specifics of the backdrops. Bacon drew inspiration from the Old Masters and was adamant about preserving the art form, declaring that his creations “deserve either the National Gallery or the garbage, with nothing in between.”

The Well-known Friendship

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud first met in the middle of the 1940s, and a connection was made right away. The two remained close friends for decades, conversing almost daily, despite it being kept relatively hidden. The author Lady Caroline Blackwood, Lucian Freud’s second wife, said that Francis attended supper at her home “almost every night for more or less the course of my marriage to Lucian.” Moreover, we had lunch. Together, they painted, drank, gambled, and often quarreled; as a result of their rivalry, Freud lost a lot of his possessions, including his automobile, in the process.

The two routinely exchanged scathing comments and furiously tore one other to pieces over the other’s work. “Who can I shred to bits, if not my friends?” said Bacon. I could not have treated them with such harshness if they had not been my pals. Years after their relationship ended, Freud went on to publicly describe Bacon’s paintings from the 1980s as “ghastly.” Both of the artists posed for portraits of the other, with Lucian Freud first posing for Francis Bacon in 1951. They wanted to paint each other, which speaks to the nature of their connection. Freud once stated, “I only paint the people who are close to me,” and this idea is echoed in many of his other pictures, which often include his children.

The Esther heads

Esther, one of Freud’s daughters, praised him for painting her. “I felt valued by him… She said, “He would paint, tell me tales, sing me songs, give me food, and take me to dinner in those hours and hours I had so much of his attention. He gives you a lovely feeling. I did sense a strong connection with him.

Despite spending a lot of time on his children’s photographs and seeming to utilize the studio to interact with people in his life, Lucian Freud was a distant parent. Lucian Freud’s son, David McAdam Freud, said in 2013 that his father was “hardly father material” and that he and his siblings didn’t spend much time with him when they were little.

Also well-known for his extramarital relationships, Freud had at least fourteen children—possibly as much as quadruple that number—with three separate women and several more mistresses. For the rest of his life, Freud’s relationship with his children remained tumultuous; his son David even paid Lucian a visit when the latter was near death. The little period of time the two guys had together was utilized to create a series of pictures rather than say their last goodbyes. Lucian was the focus this time.

Differences of their work

While there are similarities between some of Freud and Bacon’s works, the two have completely distinct painting styles. Because he painted quickly and impulsively, Bacon captured the subjects’ soul rather than their appearance. Contrarily, the painter took significantly longer to do Bacon’s portrait than Freud, taking three months in all.

Another claim was that it took Lucian Freud more than a year—in all, 16 months—to complete one artwork. During that extended time, the model was in poses for all but four days, with each painting session taking about five hours. Freud worked on a series of paintings of his mother for almost 4,000 hours. With his statement that he “feels he’s completed when he has the sense he’s working on someone else’s picture,” Freud didn’t appear to mind devoting so much time to a single piece of art. Freud put a lot of time on his picture of Francis Bacon, but sadly, it was stolen in the late 1980s and is still missing today.

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About the Author: Mark Callaway