Bacon, John

, an eminent English sculptor, descended of an ancient family in Somersetshire, was the son of Thomas Bacon, a cloth-worker in South wark, and born Nov. 24, 1740. At the age of fourteen, he was bound apprentice to Mr. Crispe of Bow church-yard, where he was employed in painting on porcelain, and forming the models of shepherds, shepherdesses, and other ornamental pieces for his master’s china manufactory at Lambeth, and such was his skill and industry in this humble employment, that he was at this early age enabled to gratify his filial piety, by supporting his parents from the produce of his labours, although at the expence of 'those enjoyments which children of less affection and thought cannot easily resign. While employed at this manufactory, he had an opportunity of seeing the models of different sculptors which were sent there to be burnt, and from them he improved his own skill in so high a degree, that at no distant period he became a candidate for public premiums, and it appears from the books published annually by the Society for the encouragement of the arts, that, between the years 1763 and 1766 inclusive, the first premiums in those classes, for which he contended, were no less than nine times adjudged to him. The first of these attempts was made in the year 1758, in a small figure of Peace, after the manner of the antique. During his apprenticeship also, he formed a design of making statues in artificial stone, which he | afterwards so perfected as to recover the manufactory at Lambeth, now carried on by Mrs. Coade, and which before Mr. Bacon undertook the management of it, had fallen into very low circumstances.

About the year 1763, he first attempted working in marble, and having never seen that operation performed, he was led to invent an instrument for transferring the form of the model to the marble (technically called, getting out the points), which instrument, from its superior effect, has since been adopted by many other sculptors in England and France. His first regular instructions, however, in his favourite pursuit, were received at the lloyal Academy in 1768, the year of its institution, and such were their effect on a mind already so well prepared by nature, that the first gold medal for sculpture given by the academy, was decreed to him and two years after, he was elected an associate. His fame was at this time well known by his statue of Mars, which induced the late archbishop of York, Dr. Markham, to employ him to execute a bust of his Majesty for the hall of Christ Church college, Oxford. His majesty not only condescended to sit to him upon this occasion, but honoured him with his patronage, and ordered another bust, intended as a present to the university of Got tin gen. He was -soon after employed by the dean and scholars of Christ Church to form several busts for them, particularly those of general Guise, the bishop of Durham, and the primate of Ireland.

In 1773, he presented to the Society forthe encouragement of arts, two statues in plaster, which by a vote of that society, were directed to be placed in their great room, and he received on the same occasion their gold medal. His first work in sculpture is in Christ Church college, already mentioned the first figures he executed in marble, are at the duke of Richmond’s at Goodwood and his first monument was that of Mrs. Withers, in St. Mary’s, Worcester. In 1777, he was employed to prepare a model of a monument to be erected in Guy’s hospital, South wark, to the memory of the founder. It was this work that chiefly recommended him to the execution of lord Chatham’s monument in Guildhall. His other works, about this period, were the monument of Mrs. Draper; a marble statue of Mars, for lord Yarborough two groupes for the top of Somerset-house the monument of lord Halifax in Westminster abbey the statue of judge | Blackstone for All Souls college, Oxford, and that of Henry VI. for the Anti-chapel at Eton. It is not our intention, however, nor would our limits permit, to enumerate all the works executed by this artist, within twenty years after he attained his just and high fame. There are few of our cathedrals or puhlic edifices without some specimen of his skill, but it would be unpardonable to omit one of his grandest efforts, the monument of lord Chatham, in Westminster abbey, which was begun in 1778, and finished in 1783. It is alone a proof of the excellence he had attained, without the aid of foreign travel and observation and how various that excellence was, may be further proved from the bronze gfoupe in the square in Somersetplace the monuments of lady Miller at Bath of lord Rodney at Jamaica of lord Heathfield at Buckland of the earl and countess of Effingham at Jamaica of Howard and Johnson in St. Paul’s, &c. c.

In almost the vigour of life, and when his fame was at its height, this artist was suddenly attacked with an inflammation in his bowels, so violent and remediless, as to occasion his death, Aug. 7, 1799, in the 59th year of his age. He left two sons and three daughters by his first wife, and three sons by his last. His second son, John, became the inheritor of a considerable part of his property, and has already fully proved himself the legitimate successor to his talents.

Mr. Bacon’s private characfer is entitled to much praise. He vyas a man of unfeigned piety and extensive benevolence. Prosperity had not corrupted him, although it appeared to superficial observers that he was cautious in matters of expence, which they were apt to impute to motives which never entered into his mind. The want of education, he supplied by useful reading, and without the more ostensible attainments of a scholar, his conversation as far as it regarded common life and common topics, had none of those deficiencies which academical education is supposed to supply. In his temper, the irritability of the artist was corrected by much meekness and forbearance, and he had that noble candour which never denies just praise to a rival or contemporary. With respect to his attainments in his profession, they might be said to be all his own. Having arrived at the highest rank of English artists in sculpture, he lias amply proved that foreign travel confers a merit which is rather useful than necessarv a | distinction which will not be misunderstood by those who know to what caprices the success of modern artists is often indebted. 1


Cecil’s Memoirs of John Bacon, R. A.—Gent. Mag. 1799; also vol. LXVI. 180.