John Henry Frederick Bacon

(1868 - 24 Jan 1914)


British painter and illustrator of genre works, history and bible scenes, and portraits.

He was the second son of the lithographer John Cardanall Bacon, and showed artistic talent from a young age. He trained at the Westminster School of Art and the Royal Academy in London. In his teens he acquired a reputation as an outstanding Black and White illustrator, and at the age of 18 set off on a professional tour of India and Burma.

On his return to England, in 1889, Bacon exhibited "The Village Green" and "Nevermore" at the Royal Academy and was a regular exhibitor from then on. He was a successful painter of religious works, such as "Peace be unto you" (1897), "Gethsemane" (1899); historical scenes, such as "Homage giving, Westminster Abbey" (for the coronation of Edward VII), "The Coronation ceremony of George V" (1911), "The City of London Imperial Volunteers Return to London from South Africa on Monday 29th October 1900"; as well as portraiture and genre scenes - such as "A Wedding Morning" (1892), "A Confession of Love" (1894), "Rivals" (1904). He was an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) and was awarded the MVO (Member of the Royal Victorian Order) for distinguished service to the King. Bacon illustrated books as well as magazines and periodicals.

Bacon married in 1894 and took up residence at "Pillar House" in Harwell, Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire). He had 7 children 19 to 4 years of age. He died of acute bronchitis on 24 January 1914, aged only 49.
Sources differ on year of birth; (1865 or 1868)

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It is one of the penalties of modern life that fame often comes to those who lack physical strenth to support the burden. The career of the late John Henry Frederick Bacon, A.R.A., M.N.O., who died on January 24th, when only in his forty-ninth year, would seem to be a melancholy instance of this. He was cut off in the fullness of his artistic powers, having at his hand as many conmnssions as he cared to execute, and half completed one of his most important works, a canvas representing the reception of their Majesties, the King and Queen at the Guildhall on the day after their coronation. One cannot help feelinig that the untimely death of the artist was in part the result of an over-taxed strength, the spur of an almost unmixed series of successes from his earliest youth having led him to spend his powers more lavishly than his constitution justified.

The late Mr. Bacon was second son of John Cardanall Bacon, a well-known lithographer. A precocious and delicate child, the deceased artist gave evidence of his talents almost before he coidd walk. He might have emulated the early career of Lawrence as a portraitist, for, like that artist, he could draw admirable likenesses at the age of ten. His parents, however, were by no means desirous of exploiting his talents and he was put through a regular course of training, first at the Westminster School of Art, ans later on at the Royal Academy Schools. Early in his teens, however, he attained a high reputation as a black and white illustrator, and when only eighteen -- an age when most painters are beginning their artistic tuition -- he set off on a professional tour to India and Burma, where he acqiuired the strong feeling for colour which subsec|uently characterised his work. His pictures at the Academy -- "The Village Green" and "Nevermore" -- were shown in 1889, and both hung on the line. The pathos of the latter work made it a popular success, while the high technical qualities of the other pictures secured the approval of the critics. After that Mr. Bacon may be said to have pursued a career of unqualified success. He was a born story-teller in the highest sense of the phrase, investing his conceptions with high dramatic power and setting them down with fine artistry. In 1897, he ventured on the domain of religious art, producing in that year his large picture of the Resurrection morning, entitled "Peace be unto you", which was followed in 1899, by "Gethsemane". During the same period he had indulged his early predilection for portraiture with considerable success. In 1903, he was selected to paint the command picture of the coronation of King Edward VII., where he showed his dramatic instinct by seizing upon the most touching episode in the whole ceremony -- the moment when the aged Archbishop Temple, having stumbled and nearly fallen, the King stepped forward and supported him. The popular success of this work pointed Mr. Bacon out as the artist most fitted to paint the command picture of the coronation of King George and Queen Mary. This was exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1912, while last year Mr. Bacon was represented by four portraits. The most salient characteristic of his work was its thoroughness.

Though possessed of sufficient dramatic power to have enabled him to attain popular successes without undue labour, the deceased bestowed exemplary care on the production of every picture. He painted with a fine sense of colour and an unflinching regard for natural truth. His death leaves a void in a phase of English art which is at present not strongly represented.

Obituary (The Connoisseur, volume 38, 1914).

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National Portrait Gallery, London
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