October marks the anniversary of Francis Bacon’s birth so, for this month’s Catalogue Raisonné focus, we will be exploring the artist’s first self-portrait, ‘Portrait’ c. 1930. Born in a nursing home at 63 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin on the 28th October 1909, Bacon was the second of five children born to English parents who had recently settled in Ireland. At just twenty, Bacon produced his earliest surviving work ‘Watercolour’ 1929 with ‘Portrait’ c. 1930 being made a short time later. Bacon created the piece by using pastel on paper and mounting it on card.
Bacon’s early works were inspired by Picasso and Surrealism. During this time he experimented with his style but, despite producing individual masterpieces, according to Art Critic David Sylvester ‘there was not much consistency in what he did, in style or in quality, until the 1940s.’. Martin Harrison FSA says of ‘Portrait’ c. 1930 in Volume II of Catalogue Raisonné 2016:
Slightly awkward, if engaging in its naïveté, it is evident Bacon was at an exploratory stage regarding technique, and experimenting with media. It was possibly painted under the informal tutelage of Roy de Maistre about 1930-32; a date earlier than 1930 is equally tenable, but there are no comparators in Bacon’s extant œuvre for the drawing style. Given a certain family resemblance, if not a self-portrait it might have been painted in memory of Bacon’s elder brother, Harley, who had died, aged twenty-four, in April 1929.
Bacon went on to paint a vast amount of self-portraits during his long career, and indeed, his last piece was the unfinished ‘Self-Portrait’ 1991-1992. The 1970’s particularly proved an exceptionally prolific period for the artist, who was quoted as saying ‘people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint.’ Despite - or maybe because of - the inspiration behind them, through these personal paintings Bacon traced his journey from a fledgling artist to the renowned painter we know and admire today.
If you’d like to order a copy of the ‘Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné’ please visit Heni Publishing’s website.
Excerpts: Martin Harrison, FSA. 30-03 ‘Portrait’ c.1930 Catalogue Raisonné Volume II pages 116-117 and The Estate of Francis Bacon website.