Francis Bacon, controversial British painter

April 29, 1992|By William Tuohy | William Tuohy,Los Angeles Times

LONDON -- Francis Bacon, widely regarded as Britain's greatest contemporary painter, died of a heart attack in Madrid yesterday while visiting friends in Spain.

The 82-year-old painter was highly controversial in traditional artistic circles because his powerful canvases, executed with splashing brush strokes, were often concerned with the themes of sex, suffering and death. Many regarded his paintings as obscene.

But his work commanded high prices. A Bacon triptych recently sold in New York for $7 million. And in 1975 he was the first living British artist to rate a one-man show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In 1962, his large retrospective exhibition at London's Tate Gallery received considerable acclaim. Additional attention focused on his paintings in 1971 when he was given a rare retrospective at Paris' Grand Palais, which opened only hours after his model and lover, George Dyer, had committed suicide.

He was born in Ireland, reportedly descended from the $l 16th-century English philosopher and essayist whose name he bore.

In his work, he broke all the staid rules of traditional English art. With no formal art training, he sometimes painted with his fingers, scrubbing brushes and rags, combining different images from different media to produce startling images.

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