Past Events

Rooms: Francis Bacon in Wartime London

Research Lunch – Altair Brandon-Salmon

  • 17 November 2023
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

In 1942, Francis Bacon moved into a dilapidated flat in a bomb-damaged house at 7 Cromwell Place in South Kensington. It was here that he painted Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944 and other early, groundbreaking work which cut across the prevailing trends of British art. His work that was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery the next year all came from this studio, where he mixed the bomb dust into his paint. Bacon’s art often focused on the human body placed under stress in an interior environment, a manoeuvre that was shaped by the impact of Picasso. The domestic space of the room, central to early twentieth-century modernist art, came under attack as never before during the Second World War. The destruction of London during the Blitz enabled a new creative direction for Bacon.

By tracing the history of Cromwell Place, the evolution and political urgency of Victorian domestic rooms will emerge; a powerful force which Bacon sought to explore in his painting. It will enable connections to be drawn between his upbringing in colonial Ireland and his life in war-torn London. These environments structured how he approached creating space in his painting of the 1940s while his defiantly unconventional life at Cromwell Place breached the boundaries between public and private worlds. Bacon’s work shows how the terrors of the twentieth century would be unleashed within rooms.

Image caption: 7 Cromwell Place. Photo by Brandon-Salmon

About the speaker

  • Altair Brandon-Salmon is a PhD candidate in art history at Stanford University, writing a dissertation on how bombsites in London shaped post-war British art and architecture. He obtained his undergraduate and masters degrees from the University of Oxford, where he was the curatorial assistant at Campion Hall. His essays have appeared in Art History.