Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud met in 1944. Although Bacon was over a decade older than Freud, their meeting sparked an instant and lasting friendship. During the 1950s and 60s they would see each other almost every day. They stayed friends until the mid-80s, at which point they fell out bitterly.
The German-Jewish artist Lucian Freud is famed for his bleak interiors and cityscapes, intimate portraits, self-portraits and nude studies. Alongside Bacon, he is considered to be Britain’s most important figurative post-war painter.
As artists, Bacon and Freud were equally committed to the human figure, whose essence of flesh and bone they both sought to grasp. However, the painters had very different approaches to reaching their goals. Notably, Bacon developed his paintings from photographic material while Freud only painted from life and was notorious for mercilessly scrutinising his sitters over numerous sessions in which he slowly built up an image on canvas.
Despite these contrasting approaches, their close friendship echoed distinctively in each other’s work. In admiration of Bacon’s handling of paint Freud said that:
“He talked about packing a lot of things into a single brushstroke, which amused and excited me, and I realised that it was a million miles away from anything I could ever do.”
When he first sat for a portrait by Bacon in 1951, Freud was intrigued by Bacon’s hurried and spontaneous approach. Bacon’s paintings of Freud bear little literal resemblance to him and, instead, depict something closer to a psychological sketch: capturing Freud’s essence rather than illustrating his physical reality.
On the other hand, when Bacon sat for Freud consistently for three months in the following year, the former was amazed by how long it took to create the final piece. For Freud this was actually relatively quick: a portrait that he completed in 2007 took sixteen months of work.
Bacon went on to paint many portraits of Freud. Following first in 1951, he produced another fifteen works of his friend, often using portrait photographs by John Deakin as a pictorial springboard.
Read more about how the artists influenced and inspired each other on our website’s Lucian Freud page.