John Bacon (sculptor)

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Bacon's sculpture of Father Thames in Coade stone, in the grounds of Ham House

John Bacon RA (24 November 1740 – 7 August 1799) was a British sculptor who worked in the late 18th century.


thumb|Trade card designed by John Bascon, about 1821 V&A Museum no. 29380B/24 John Bacon was born in Southwark on 24 November 1740, the son of Thomas Bacon, a clothworker[1] whose family had formerly held a considerable estate in Somersetshire.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] Observing the models sent by different eminent sculptors to be fired at the adjoining pottery kiln determined the direction of his genius:[1] he began imitating them with such proficiency that a small figure of Peace[1] sent by him to the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts won a prize.[1] Subsequently, its highest awards were given to him nine times between 1763 and 1776.[1] During his apprenticeship, he also improved the method of working statues in stoneware, an art which he afterwards carried to perfection.[1]

Bacon first attempted working in marble around 1763,[1] 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.[2] 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.[1]

By 1769, he was working for Ms Coade's Artificial Stone Manufactory[2] and in that year he was awarded the first gold medal for sculpture awarded by the Royal Academy[1] for a bas-relief representing the escape of Aeneas and Anchises from Troy.[1] In 1770, he exhibited a figure of Mars,[1] redone in marble the next year for Mr Pelhalm,[3] which gained him the gold medal from the Society of Arts and his election as an associate of the Royal Academy (ARA).[1] In 1771, Ms Coade appointed him works supervisor at her manufactory: he directed both model-making and design there until his death.[citation needed] 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.[4] He executed a bush of George III for Christ Church, Oxford, and retained that king's favour throughout his life.[1] Jealous competitors criticised him for ignorance of classic style, a charge he refuted with a bust of Jupiter Tonans.[5] In 1795, he completed a statue of Samuel Johnson for St Paul's Cathedral.[6]

On 4 August 1799 he was suddenly attacked with an affliction described as "inflammation"; he died a little more than two days later[5] on the 7th[7] and was buried in Whitefield's Tabernacle in London.[1][n 1] His estate was valued at £60,000, which was divided equally among his children.[8] His widow was his second wife; he left a family fully composed of six sons and three daughters.[5] His sons Thomas Bacon[citation needed] and John Bacon Jr. continued his work,[7] and one of his daughters married the artist Mr Thornton.[9] His memoirs were edited by Rev. Cecil and published in 1801.[10]


Bacon has been reckoned the founder of the British School of sculpture,[5] 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.[9] He won numerous awards, held the esteem of George III, and continued to be praised in the 19th[5] and 20th centuries.[1] His works adorn St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London; Christ Church and Pembroke College in Oxford; Bath Abbey; and Bristol Cathedral.[1]


Statue of Atlas on the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford
Monument to Charles Roe in Christ Church, Macclesfield

Bacon's principal works include:[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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."[7]
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s EB (1911).
  2. ^ a b Smith (1829), p. 155.
  3. ^ Smith (1829), pp. 155–156.
  4. ^ Smith (1829), p. 156.
  5. ^ a b c d e EB (1878).
  6. ^ Smith (1829), pp. 158–159.
  7. ^ a b c Smith (1829), p. 162.
  8. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, Vol II, (1847) Charles Knight, London, p.646
  9. ^ a b Smith (1829), p. 161.
  10. ^ Cecil (1801).


  • Wikisource 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


External links[edit]

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