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John Bacon RA (24 November 1740 – 7 August 1799) was a British sculptor who worked in the late 18th century.
John Bacon was born in Southwark on 24 November 1740, the son of Thomas Bacon, a clothworker whose family had formerly held a considerable estate in Somersetshire. At the age of fourteen, John was apprenticed to Mr Crispe's porcelain manufactory at Lambeth, where he was at first employed in painting the small ornamental pieces of china. His great skill at moulding led to his swift promotion to modeller. He devoted the additional income to the support of his parents, then in straitened circumstances. Observing the models sent by different eminent sculptors to be fired at the adjoining pottery kiln determined the direction of his genius: he began imitating them with such proficiency that a small figure of Peace sent by him to the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts won a prize. Subsequently, its highest awards were given to him nine times between 1763 and 1776. During his apprenticeship, he also improved the method of working statues in stoneware, an art which he afterwards carried to perfection.
Bacon first attempted working in marble around 1763, when he resided in George Yard on Oxford Rd. near Soho Square. He exhibited a medallion of George III and a group of Bacchanalians that year and a bas relief of the Good Samaritan the next. During the course of his early efforts in this art, he was led to improve the method of transferring the form of the model to the marble ("getting out the points") by the invention of a more perfect instrument for the purpose. This instrument possessed many advantages: it was more exact, took a correct measurement in every direction, was contained in a small compass, and could be used on either the model or the marble.
By 1769, he was working for Ms Coade's Artificial Stone Manufactory and in that year he was awarded the first gold medal for sculpture awarded by the Royal Academy for a bas-relief representing the escape of Aeneas and Anchises from Troy. In 1770, he exhibited a figure of Mars, redone in marble the next year for Mr Pelhalm, which gained him the gold medal from the Society of Arts and his election as an associate of the Royal Academy (ARA). In 1771, Ms Coade appointed him works supervisor at her manufactory: he directed both model-making and design there until his death. In 1774, he was gifted with a new establishment at 17 Newman St. by a Mr Johnson who was a great admirer of his work. He executed a bush of George III for Christ Church, Oxford, and retained that king's favour throughout his life. Jealous competitors criticised him for ignorance of classic style, a charge he refuted with a bust of Jupiter Tonans. In 1795, he completed a statue of Samuel Johnson for St Paul's Cathedral.
On 4 August 1799 he was suddenly attacked with an affliction described as "inflammation"; he died a little more than two days later on the 7th and was buried in Whitefield's Tabernacle in London.[n 1] His estate was valued at £60,000, which was divided equally among his children. His widow was his second wife; he left a family fully composed of six sons and three daughters. His sons Thomas Bacon and John Bacon Jr. continued his work, and one of his daughters married the artist Mr Thornton. His memoirs were edited by Rev. Cecil and published in 1801.
Bacon has been reckoned the founder of the British School of sculpture, although he himself considered Roubiliac's statue of Eloquence for Waterloo Bridge to be such a fine piece of sculpture that he was sure he could never equal it. He won numerous awards, held the esteem of George III, and continued to be praised in the 19th and 20th century. His works adorn St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London; Christ Church and Pembroke College in Oxford; Bath Abbey; and Bristol Cathedral.
Bacon's principal works include:
- Bust of George III in Christ Church, Oxford (1770)
- Bust of John Guise in Christ Church, Oxford (1770)
- Monument to the George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax in Westminster Abbey (1771)
- Monument to Thomas Gray in Westminster Abbey (1771)
- Bust of George III for Windsor Castle (1775)
- Figurative sculpture for the front of Guy's Hospital (1776)
- Chimneypiece for the Duke of Richmond at Goodwood House (1777)
- Figurative sculpture for Somerset House (1778)
- Monument to 1st Earl of Chatham in Westminster Abbey (1778)
- Bust of Samuel Foote exhibited at Royal Academy (1778)
- Monument to Thomas Guy in Guy's Hospital Chapel (1779)
- Monument to Jacob Harris in Salisbury Cathedral (1780)
- Bust of Sir Francis Dashwood for his mausoleum at West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (1780)
- Bust of Inigo Jones for the Carpenters Hall, London (1780)
- Monument to Charles Roe in Christ Church, Macclesfield (1781)
- Monument to Lord Tracton in Cork, Ireland (1781)
- Statue of the 1st Earl of Chatham for the Guildhall, London (1782)
- Statue of Henry VI for Eton College sited in the Upper Chapel (1786)
- Memorial to Admiral Samuel Graves in Dunkeswell, Devon (1787)
- Monument to Sir Waldon Hanmar at Simpson, Buckinghamshire (1789)
- Ornate chimney-piece at Fonthill Abbey (1790)
- Ornate chimney-piece for Warren Hastings at Daylesford House (1793)
- Monument to John Milton in St. Giles Cripplegate, London (1793)
- Bust of the Duke of Portland[clarification needed] for the mausoleum at Wentworth Woodhouse (1793)
- Bust of John Howard for Shrewsbury Prison (1793)
- Bust of John Thomas, Bishop of Rochester in Westminster Abbey (1793)
- Statue of Atlas on the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford (by 1795)
- Statue of John Howard in St Paul's Cathedral (1795)
- Monument to Sir George Pocock in Westminster Abbey (1796)
- Statue of Dr Samuel Johnson in St Paul's Cathedral (1796)
- Pediment for the offices of the East India Company (1797–99)
- Statue of Sir William Jones in St Paul's Cathedral (1799)
- Statue of William III in St. James Square, London (1799)
- Monument to Samuel Whitbread at Cardington, Bedfordshire (1799)
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- His body rests beneath an inscription reading: "What I was as an Artist, / Seemed to me of some importance / While I lived; / But / What I really was as a Believer / In Christ Jesus,/ Is the only thing of importance / To me now."
- Baynes, T.S., ed. (1878), "John Bacon", Encyclopædia Britannica, 3 (9th ed.), New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 218
- Cecil, Richard, ed. (1801), Memoirs of John Bacon, Esq. R.A., with Reflections drawn from a review of his Moral and Religious Character, London: R. Noble for F. & C. Rivington
- Smith, John Thomas (1829), "Bacon", Nollekens and His Times: Comprehending a Life of that Celebrated Sculptor; and Memoirs of Several Contemporary Artists, from the Time of Roubiliac, Hogarth, and Reynolds, to that of Fuseli, Flaxman, and Blake, Vol. II, London: S. & R. Bentley for Henry Colburn, pp. 153–163
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911), "Bacon, John", Encyclopædia Britannica, 3 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 152