Francis Bacon (artist) - Early Life

Early Life

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin at 63 Lower Baggot Street, to parents of British descent. Captain Anthony Edward Mortimer ("Eddy") Bacon, his father, was a veteran of the Boer War who became a racehorse trainer. Christina Winifred "Winnie" Firth, his mother, was an heiress to a Sheffield steel business and coal mine. It is believed that his father was a direct descendant of Sir Nicholas Bacon, the elder half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan statesman, philosopher and essayist. His beautiful great-great-grandmother, Lady Charlotte Harley, was intimately acquainted with Lord Byron, who called her "Ianthe", so much so that he dedicated his famous poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, to her. When Bacon's paternal grandfather was given the chance to revive the family title of Lord Oxford by Queen Victoria, he refused for financial reasons.

He had an older brother, Harley, five years his senior, two younger sisters, Ianthe and Winifred, and a younger brother, Edward. He was raised by the family nanny, a woman from Cornwall, Jessie Lightfoot. Known by Francis as 'Nanny Lightfoot', she would continue to play a key role in the artist's development even after his exile by Captain Bacon. During Bacon's early years, before he found fame with his first masterpiece, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1945, he continually drifted throughout rental homes in England, accompanied by Lightfoot. Bacon created his own Mother within Lightfoot, using her as a filler for the lack of a maternal figure in his childhood. Lightfoot, despite her age, was said to sleep on the kitchen table, as there was not a spare bed in their accommodation. The family shifted houses often, moving back and forth between Ireland and England several times during this period, leading to a feeling of displacement that would remain with the artist throughout his life. In 1911 the family lived in Cannycourt House near Kilcullen, County Kildare, but later moved to Westbourne Terrace, London, close to where Bacon's father worked at the Territorial Force Records Office.

On returning to Ireland after World War I, Bacon was sent to live for a time with his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, Winifred and Kerry Supple, at Farmleigh, Abbeyleix, County Laois, though they soon moved again to Straffan Lodge near Naas, County Kildare, his mother's birthplace. Although shy, he enjoyed dressing up. This, coupled with his effeminate manner, often enraged his father and created a distance between them. A story emerged in 1992 of his father having had Francis horsewhipped by their groom. In 1924 his parents moved to Gloucestershire, first to Prescott House in Gotherington, then to Linton Hall, situated near the border with Herefordshire. Francis spent eighteen months boarding at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, from the third term of 1924 until April 1926. This was to be his only brush with a formal education as he quit the school right before he was to be expelled.

At a fancy-dress party at the Firth family house of Cavendish Hall, Suffolk, Francis dressed up as a flapper with an Eton crop, beaded dress, lipstick, high heels, and a long cigarette holder. In 1926, the family moved back to Straffan Lodge. His sister, Ianthe, twelve years his junior, recalled that Bacon made drawings of ladies with cloche hats and long cigarette holders. Later that year, Francis was banished from Straffan Lodge following an incident in which his father found him admiring himself in front of a large mirror draped in his mother's underwear.

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