Bacon looked to the French as the ultimate arbiters in virtually every domain that interested him. He often admitted that it was what the French thought of his work that mattered most to him.
“France is certainly the country I prefer of all the countries I know.”
Click on each period
to explore Bacon’s
relationship with France
Inspired by Picasso in Paris
Bacon moved to Paris around springtime in 1927. Here he met Yvonne Bocquentin who took him under her wing, offering him a room in her Chantilly house. She taught him French and introduced him to ‘Le Tout-Paris’. In Paris, he encountered the work of Picasso at a Paul Rosenberg Gallery exhibition, which acted as the first real catalyst for Bacon becoming a painter. In 1928, moving to Montparnasse, Bacon stayed at the Hôtel Delambre. Montparnasse in those years was a magnet for writers and artists from throughout the world. Also, the unvarnished milieu of Pigalle, where people followed their own instincts, was another alluring place for Bacon. In Paris, he encountered a number of French magazines such as Cahiers d’Art and Document (the celebrated magazine edited by Georges Bataille) that drew his immediate interest. He acquired a medical book by Ludwig Grünwald published in 1903, with hand-painted illustrations of diseases of the mouth. The whole experience of Paris, with its intellectual excitement, sexual freedom and savoir-vivre made a lasting mark on the young Bacon who returned to London by the end of 1929.
London’s French Quarter
In late 1929, Bacon returned to London and moved into a converted garage at 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington. It became his studio and home until 1931. There, he established himself as a furniture and rug designer. From late 1929 to his death, the artist mostly lived in South Kensington, better known as the ‘French Quarter’.
During the 1930s, the presence of the French Consulate, the Lycée Français and the French Institute attracted the French expats to South Kensington and it soon became their home away from home. Bacon felt at home in this enclave, with its cafés, boulangeries, restaurants, cinemas and continental bookshops. 7 Reece Mews, his studio and living quarters from 1961 to the end of his life, was located just a stone’s throw away from the French Institute and the Lycée Français “Charles de Gaulle”.
Influenced by French design
Bacon lived and worked at 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington, from late 1929 to 1931. He advertised in the Kensington Directory of 1930 as: “Francis Bacon, Modern Decoration, furniture in metal, glass and wood, rugs, mirrors and lights”. Bacon staged two exhibitions in 1929 and 1930 at 17 Queensberry Mews. His skills as a furniture designer were strongly influenced by his exposure to the Parisian milieu. Later in his life, the artist declared that his early designs were derivative of various French Modernists.
1946 to the early 1950s
The French Riviera exerted a powerful attraction on European artists and intellectuals from the 1920s to the 1950s, and Monaco represented the summit of elegance, luxury and frivolity. In 1946 Bacon, now fluent in French, moved to Monaco shortly after the sale of Painting 1946. The Principality became his main residence from 5 July 1946 to the early 1950s. Already a seasoned gambler, Bacon became obsessed by the Belle Epoque Casino of Monaco and often spent whole days there. The artist mentioned, in his various correspondences, the work he managed to accomplish there despite its many distractions.
Bacon was attracted by the atmosphere and lifestyle of Monte Carlo. He also enjoyed the Mediterranean landscape and the benefits for his asthma of the invigorating sea air. As a ‘bon vivant’, he relished the finest of the local cuisine and French wines.
Bacon remained a regular visitor to Southern France and Monaco throughout the rest of his life.
MB Art Collection
to early 1960s
Trips to Tangier
During this period, Bacon made frequent trips to Tangier to visit his lover and muse, Peter Lacy. French presence and influence were preponderant in this part of North Africa at that time. Tangier offered the temptations of an International Zone, which exerted a powerful attraction on artists, writers, Hollywood actors, speculators and smugglers. Bacon found a city that was wide open and sexually liberating, reminiscent of his early years in Berlin and Paris. The artist’s favourite hangout in Tangier was Dean’s Bar. Lacy worked there as a piano player and the bar attracted the elite as well as the underworld.
Bacon continued to visit Tangier beyond the 1960s.
Photograph by Fred G. Mossman
Galerie Rive Droite
In February 1957 Jean Larcade and Erica Brausen mounted Bacon’s first solo French exhibition. Twenty-one paintings were exhibited at Galerie Rive Droite. A small catalogue was published for the occasion, with an introduction by the English Surrealist painter Roland Penrose, poet, co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art and a close friend of Picasso. The catalogue also included a text by one of the finest art critics in the second half of the twentieth century, David Sylvester.
© Galerie Rive Droite
In November 1966, Galerie Maeght staged a Bacon show in Paris. The exhibition was a success and the artist received significant Parisian recognition. The gallery published in that same year an issue of the art magazine Derrière le Miroir dedicated to Bacon and prefaced by Michel Leiris. Bacon’s triptych Three Figures in a Room, 1964 was included in the installation and bought by the French state two years later.
On 27th October 1971, Bacon was given the accolade of a retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was previewed on the 26th in the presence of the French Minister of Culture, representatives of major cultural institutions and leading artists. Picasso was the only other living artist who had received a similar honour in 1966. As a Francophone and an ardent Francophile, it probably afforded Bacon the greatest satisfaction of any of his exhibitions. This retrospective was a triumph, but tragedy struck with the death of his companion George Dyer at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères, Paris, three days before the opening to the public.
© MB Art Collection
His pied-à-terre in Paris
After the success of his Grand Palais retrospective in 1971, the artist started spending a considerable amount of time in the French capital. In 1975, he took a studio-apartment at 14 rue de Birague in the historic Marais district. He deepened his friendships with Michel Leiris and Jacques Dupin. He also met art historian Eddy Batache and art consultant Reinhard Hassert in 1975, who were to become two of his closest friends and confidants until the end of his life. Bacon gave up his Parisian pied-à-terre in 1987 but remained a regular visitor to the ‘City of Light’.
From the 1970s, Bacon was elevated to legendary status in the French capital and in the Parisian press.
© MB Art Collection
Musée Cantini, Marseille
Bacon’s attraction to the port city, with its large North African population, began in his earliest trips to Southern France and Monaco. He found in Marseille an atmosphere that reminded him of Tangier.
A few years after his successful retrospective at the Grand Palais, the artist exhibited his work at the Musée Cantini in July 1976. The exhibition was curated by Marielle Latour, under the aegis of Gaston Defferre, the city’s mayor.
© Archives du Musée Cantini de Marseille, cliché reprographie municipale
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Only a few months after Bacon’s show in Marseille, the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris exhibited twenty of his recent works. Michel Leiris wrote a preface to the exhibition catalogue. This now legendary exhibition attracted such a crowd that it resulted in the police cordoning off the rue des Beaux-Arts. Bacon declared later that the Claude Bernard installation, mounted in a small gallery, was one of his favourites.
“[…] where the spaces are small, and the paintings seem more intense.”
Francis Bacon on the
Claude Bernard exhibition
© MB Art Collection
Galerie Lelong, Paris
After his first show at the Galerie Maeght-Lelong, Paris in January 1984, Bacon had a second exhibition in September 1987, at the Galerie Lelong. Jacques Dupin, whom Bacon admired as a poet, art critic and gallery manager, prefaced the exhibition catalogue. An interview with David Sylvester was also included with the publication.
© MB Art Collection