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Summary

The Times Art Book of the Year 2021

Finalist for the Plutarch Award 2022

A decade in the making, based upon hundreds of interviews and extensive new material, Pulitzer Prize winners Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan have written a startlingly original portrait—rich, complex and subtle—of a commanding modern figure. 

Bacon concealed many important aspects of his life. He described himself as an asthmatic child in Ireland with foxhunting parents and a tyrannical father, but he was also rescued by a series of formidable women—women who in this biography emerge in their own right. He was never just a dissolute young man but was also a passionate reader, largely self-taught. Early on, influenced by Eileen Gray, he became a hard-working and ambitious designer, a brief career explored here in detail for the first time. He dreamed of remaking the modern room.

Bacon worked no less hard or ambitiously as a painter, at first with little success. Throughout the 1930s and early ’40s, he suffered ongoing failures, growing isolated and often ill. His health issues throughout his life were far more significant than he revealed. Then came his astonishing breakthrough in 1944, with Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. In the following decades, he emerged as one of the great iconoclasts and bon vivants of his time, a Wildean figure whom one friend called ‘a terrific grandee’. Bacon was typically celebrated as a sexual adventurer who liked rough trade, but he never stopped longing for a serious committed relationship, however painful. He continued to make disturbing images of the strangeness within, but developed into a more varied artist than has been recognised, creating in particular an extraordinary series of self-portraits. He was an artist who believed in chance and paradox: the iconoclast eventually became an icon.

This is a story, deeply researched and masterfully told, of a sickly boy who became one of the great figures of his time. The 20th century does not know itself without Bacon.

©2021 Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Must surely be the definitive life of Francis Bacon.... A biography that no Bacon fan - or indeed foe - can afford to overlook.... Mesmerising." (The Times)

"A magnificent triumph...I was captivated by every line." (Observer)

"Meticulously researched and compelling." (Guardian)

What listeners say about Francis Bacon

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Well narrated but poorly edited

Had to stop listening, about 15 mistakes in narration left in and not edited out within the first 2 hours, a big let down in the presentation of what seemed like a very interesting book.

5 people found this helpful

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AVOID

Steven's & Swan have written an incredible book which has been utterly destroyed by woeful production and an utter shambles of a reading, Armstrong's reading has constant sniffles, re takes and stuttering's, the worst audio book I've ever heard, its a great book though.

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Please re-record this ... !!

This is probably a good book , difficult to tell, such is the impact of the dire narration and production on this title. It is doubtful I will get through it. Please re-record this !!

2 people found this helpful

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Fabulous Book

I found this a fascinating biography of a great artist. It is obviously very well researched with a great amount of information on FB yet nothing felt unnecessary. The narrator has an excellent speaking voice which was a pleasure to listen to.

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Great book; good reader; poorly produced

I’ve read most of the other Bacon biographies, and this is the best yet. Well paced, nicely structured and new insights - particularly FB’s childhood, which goes some way to explaining his character.

What singles this out from the other FB Bios is the historical context provided throughout: from explaining the Irish home rule question to the excellent pen portraits of the many supporting cast members in Bacon’s life.

Charles Armstrong is an audiobook reader/actor I’ve not come across before and is excellent: I could listen to him all day.

BUT he is poorly served by whoever produced the audiobook, correcting himself when misreading - but these have been left in! I understand actors have been WFH over the last year, but what’s the excuse of the publisher? ‘Couldn’t be bothered’?

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Please learn how to say Naas !!!

Reader not pronouncing Irish place names correctly and this grates !
Does nobody from Audible oversee recordings?

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Audio fixed

Reading previous reviews I was hesitant to download this one given the mentions of issues with the recording and narration. I'm a few hours in now and can say they must have re-edited this as the narration is excellent (as is the book).

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An enjoyable listen but not enough about the art

I did really enjoy this listen, it’s for sure deep and I learned lots about Bacon, but not enough I felt about the actual art and painting. There is incredible detail about his loves and friendships.

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Excellent Biography

This is an excellent and compelling story of the life and work of this great British / Irish painter. The narration is flawless. I didn't want it to end. It's revealing, of course and full of humour. It captures Bacon's genius, his humanity and compassion with out being sentimental. Highly recommended.

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fascinating, but

this is as much a social history of a particular group in the 2nd half of the 20thC as about Francis Bacon's art. perhaps an audiobook is the wrong medium for a book about art - the absence of visual representation is frustrating: but on its own terms it is fascinating and well read, but for the regular false starts which really should be edited out. nonetheless, recommended