Andrew Sinclair is a novelist and biographer who has published more than thirty books, including biographies on such diverse figures as Warren G. Harding, Che Guevara, Jack London, and J. P. Morgan. His latest work constitutes the first major biography on the English painter Francis Bacon to be published since Bacon’s death in 1992. Born in 1909 in Dublin, Ireland, to a British army officer and his wife, Bacon had a difficult childhood and suffered from various ailments brought on by asthma. During the Irish Civil War, the young Bacon was sent to live with various relatives. Growing up in a very unstable environment, Bacon was often mistreated as a child. In 1925, he moved to London, escaping the abusive family life that he had known. There, he became a struggling, primarily self-taught, painter. Bacon received a meager allowance from his mother, which he supplemented by resorting to criminal activity. Since homosexual activity was a punishable offense under British law, Bacon’s identity as a homosexual meant that he identified more closely with the fringe elements of British society.
As Sinclair points out, Bacon went to live in Berlin, Germany, and from there to Paris, France, in order to immerse himself in the artistic movements of the day and to get away from the oppressive nature of British society. Pablo Picasso was a major early influence, but Bacon still needed to find a style that suited his own temperament. He was overwhelmed upon viewing Nicolas Poussin’s seventeenth century work, THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS. The violent theme of the painting left an indelible imprint on Bacon and helped shape his artistic destiny. He was also impressed with the paintings of Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh. As an artist who thought of himself as an outsider, Bacon sought to paint that which would convey the terror and pain of modern life. He shocked the world at large, which did its best to turn away from his work. Although Bacon was not a violent man himself, it was impossible for him to turn away from the brutality of his age. Throughout his entire artistic career, he painted the dark side of humankind. Although Sinclair’s biography is only the first full-scale attempt to come to terms with this complicated artist, he has done a more than serviceable job, and his biography will more than likely be studied for years to come.