Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/John Bacon

BACON, John, who may be considered the founder of the British school of sculpture, was born Nov. 24, 1740. He was the son of Thomas Bacon, cloth-worker in Southwark, whose forefathers possessed a considerable estate in Somersetshire. At the age of fourteen he was bound apprentice in Mr Crispe's manufactory of porcelain at Lambeth, where he was at first employed in painting the email ornamental pieces of china, but by his great skill in moulding he soon attained the distinction of being modeller to the work. The produce of his labour he devoted to the support of his parents, then in somewhat straitened circumstances. While engaged in the porcelain works he had an opportunity of seeing the models executed by different sculptors of eminence, which were sent to be burned at an adjoining pottery. An observation of these productions appears to have immediately determined the direction of his genius; he devoted himself to the imitation of them with so much success, that in 1758 a small figure sent by him to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts received a prize, and the highest premiums given by that society were adjudged to him nine times between the years 1763 and 1776. During his apprenticeship he also improved the method of working statues in artificial stone, an art which he afterwards carried to perfection. Bacon first attempted working in marble about the year 1763, and, during the course of his early efforts in this art, was led to improve the method of transferring the form of the model to the marble (technically called getting out the points), by the invention of a more perfect instrument for the purpose, which has since been adopted by many sculptors both in this and other countries. This instrument possesses many advantages above those formerly employed; it is more exact, takes a correct measurement in every direction, is contained in a small compass, and can be used upon either the model or the marble. In the year 1769 he was adjudged the first gold medal given by the Royal Academy, and in 1770 was made an associate of that body. He shortly afterwards exhibited a figure of Mars, which gained him considerable reputation, and he was then engaged to execute a bust of George III, intended for Christ Church, Oxford. He secured the king's favour, and retained it throughout life. His great celebrity now procured him numerous commissions, and it is said, that of sixteen different competitions in which he was engaged with other artists, he was unsuccessful in one case only. Considerable jealousy was entertained against him by other sculptors, and he was commonly charged with ignorance of classic style. This charge he repelled by the execution of a noble head of Jupiter Tonans, and many of his emblematical figures are in perfect classical taste. On the 4th of August 1799, he was suddenly attacked with inflammation, which occasioned his death in little more than two days, in the 59th year of his age. He left a widow, his second wife, and a family of six sons and three daughters. Of his merit as a sculptor, the universal reputation of his works affords decisive proof, and his various productions which adorn St Paul's Cathedral, London, Christ Church and Pembroke College, Oxford, the Abbey Church, Bath, and Bristol Cathedral, give ample testimony to his powers. Perhaps his best works are to be found among the monuments in Westminster Abbey. (See Memoir of the late John Bacon, R.A., by the Rev. Richard Cecil: London, 1811.)