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Francis Bacon

© 1963 Condé Nast Publications Inc.

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Francis Bacon

by Irving Penn
platinum palladium print, 1962
12 5/8 in. x 12 3/4 in. (321 mm x 324 mm)
Purchased, 1994
Primary Collection
NPG P587

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Irving Penn (1917-2009), Photographer. Artist of 30 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This photograph was taken in London for American Vogue. Bacon's friend, the photographer Bruce Bernard, believed this to be the best photograph of the artist, and described him looking 'rather like a strange child who has just read a few paragraphs of Neitzsche'. Probably taken at Bacon's studio, the worn reproduction of a fake Rembrandt portrait on the wall behind, is typical of the type of found image Bacon would preserve for inspiration.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 27
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 222 Read entry

    Born in Dublin, Francis Bacon left Ireland aged sixteen and settled permanently in England in 1928. After working as an interior designer, he began painting in about 1930, making his first major impact with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944, Tate). This photograph was taken in Bacon’s London studio for American Vogue (published 1 November 1963), and the worn reproduction of a fake Rembrandt portrait in the background is typical of the diverse sources of imagery that he preserved for inspiration. Bacon’s international reputation was confirmed by retrospectives at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1955), Guggenheim Museum, New York (1963) and Grand Palais, Paris (1971). He remains one of the most acclaimed British painters of the twentieth century.

    Irving Penn (1917–2009) was one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished photographers, and his portraiture spanned seven decades. His long affiliation with Vogue magazine began in 1943. This portrait of Bacon is representative of a change in style that Penn adopted during the 1950s and 1960s, in which he produced much closer, more confronting studies of the face which filled the photographic frame.

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Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1962back to top

Current affairs

After a series of by-election defeats, the prime minister, Harold MacMillan organises a drastic cabinet reshuffle, dismissing one third of his cabinet. Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe's rye comment summed up the desperate action: 'greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life.'
Britain suffers the 'Big Freeze' with no frost-free nights between 22nd December 1962 and 5th March 1963.

Art and science

The Beatles have their first hit with Love Me Do and release their first album Please Please Me.
The new Coventry Cathedral is consecrated and creates a showcase for British artistic talent with the first performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, a wall hanging by Graham Sutherland, stained glass by John Piper, and sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Elizabeth Frink.


The world comes to the brink of nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis. In response to the USA's nuclear advantage, the USSR sent missiles to Cuba. The crisis lasted for 12 days before a deal was finally stuck between Khrushchev and Kennedy in which the Cuban missile bases were dismantled in return for the secret removal of US missiles from Turkey.

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