John Bacon the Elder, RA (1740-1799)
Guy's Hospital pediment by John Bacon Sr.
John Bacon the Elder was an important 18th Century sculptor, responsible for some important monuments, and a variety of statues in London and elsewhere. He also made a large number of church monuments, and these too are widely distributed.
Pitt the Elder, Guildhall, by John Bacon Sr.
John Bacon was born in Southwark, south London, son of a clothworker, and learnt modelling under a porcelain maker in Lambeth. By 1767 had become a modeller for Mrs Coade’s nearby Lambeth factory, also studying at the RA Schools from the following year. He later also worked for Wedgwood. He was elected ARA in 1770, and full Academician in 1777, and it was from around this time that he began to win major commissions for sculptural works, including in 1779 the monument to Chatham in Westminster Abbey.
Also in Westminster Abbey may be seen his monuments to the Earl of Halifax, Thomas Gray, General Hope, and William Mason. In St Paul's are his statues of John Howard, William Jones and Dr Johnson. Among many others, we might mention that in Salisbury Cathedral is his monument to Jacob Harris, in Bath Abbey Lady Miller, in Bristol Cathedral, Elizabeth Draper, and John Johnson in Leicester. A picture of one of his monuments is shown on the Hillingdon Parish Church page on this site, and another on the St Mary Paddington Green page, and another in Buckinghamshire, in Chesham Church. Bacon particularly favoured obelisk monuments, and a group of his works from the end of the 18th century are shown together on the obelisk monuments page.
Examples of John Bacon Sr monumental sculpture.
His best known works in London include George III and the River Thames in the courtyard of Somerset House, and the group of Pitt the Elder in the Guildhall. Also in London are his William III (completed by his son), the sculptures on the façade of Trinity House, near the Tower of London, and the statues on the front of Guy’s Hospital (shown on this page).
Two mermen on Trinity House.
Bacon’s girls are classical, comely, full-figured and in Hellenistic or Baroque drapery, carved with great loops and twisted cords in dramatic 18th Century style. His men are cast more as Roman senators, noble and patrician (above all Dr Johnson in St Pauls), or athletic, heavily muscled figures. The excellence and sympathy of the figures, their sense of presence, and the quality of the drapery mark Bacon as a superior sculptor. Above is a portion of the Trinity House sculpture, showing two mermen supporting a shield; these slightly sombre figures, almost Germanic in their treatment of the muscular male body, are characteristic of the sculptor's best work.
His son, John Bacon Jr, was a significant sculptor in his own right, and as on Bacon's death in 1799 he completed his unfinished pieces, and largely followed the style of his father, there are different views on how far Bacon's last works were his or his son's. Another son, Thomas Bacon, also studied as a sculptor but is obscure. There is another sculptor called Charles Bacon, active in Victorian times, but he was son of an unconnected John Bacon, and does not appear to be related.
John Bacon Sr's The Thames, Richmond.