Henry Bacon American (1839-1913
Henry Bacon Born: 1839, Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States of America Died: 1912, Cairo, Egypt Gender: Male Biography: An expatriate artist best known for his scenes of life aboard transatlantic passenger ships, Henry Bacon enjoyed an international career as an illustrator, travel and art writer, and painter in oils and watercolors. Bacon was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, of an old New England family. Little is known of his initial artistic training, but by the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War, at the age of eighteen, he was ready to serve both as a soldier and as a field artist for the popular magazine Leslie’s Weekly. Badly wounded in the war, Bacon returned to Boston and began to paint while attending anatomy lectures given by figure painter William Rimmer (1816–1879) at the Lowell Institute. With his bride, he departed for Paris in 1864. Bacon was one of the first American artists to be admitted to the recently reformed Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied under the influential French history painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889). He also became an art correspondent for American journals. Between 1866 and 1868, partly in an effort to economize, Bacon and his wife lived in the village of Ecouen, near Paris; there, he worked under figure painter Edouard Frère (1819–1886), following his example in producing the sentimental French peasant scenes so popular among European and American collectors of the day. Later, Bacon produced American scenes of everyday life in colonial-era America and coastal views of the French province of Normandy. The smoothly finished surfaces, rich colors, and carefully modeled figures of Bacon’s paintings were consistent with popular, academic taste. Beginning in 1867, his works were displayed regularly in the Paris Salon, a prestigious annual exhibition. In the mid-1870s, Bacon made two visits to the United States that furnished material for his most notable works: scenes of passengers aboard the steamships that had revolutionized transatlantic travel, making France a popular American tourist destination. These images, some of them reproduced as illustrations for Bacon’s travel articles in popular periodicals, established the artist’s reputation in America. As Bacon’s academic style went out of favor in the 1890s, he attempted to adjust his manner to the newer mode known as impressionism, with its bright, pure color applied in distinct brushstrokes. Following his second marriage, to a writer from a prominent Baltimore family, Bacon found the means to travel extensively in search of new material. Maintaining a studio in London, he worked in Italy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Greece, but he was particularly fascinated by Egypt. His first excursion there, in 1897, inspired the artist to take up the medium of watercolor, in which he worked for the rest of his career. Bacon returned several times to Egypt, where he died at the age of seventy-three.