Peggy Bacon American, 1895 - 1987

As a satirist, Bacon ridiculed and distorted in compiling her update of the urban vanity fair, but she also detected – and took advantage of – a sitter’s self imposed exaggerations.

Avis Berman


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Artist Statement

Essays

Peggy Bacon papers, 1893-1973, bulk 1900-1936
Archives of American Art


Peggy Bacon Personalities and Places
Foreword by Joshua C Taylor, director to then National Collection of Fine Art, now Museum of American art, Smithsonian Press, Washington DC, 1975

To ask Peggy bacon to be impersonal in her view of the world would be to tell her not to see. Working as an artist through an era that was characterized generally by intensive theories and preoccupations with formal concerns, Peggy Bacon has never been inclined to forget that she remains a very human being living along with others a life that may be perplexing in its modern dimensions but is still to be measured in terms of incorrigibly willful and unique individuals.

The only common denominator expressed by her people is the assumption that amount people there is no common denominator worth talking about. Not only is each person different, but different according to the situation in which the artist discovers him. Peggy Bacon's is an art of infinite particularity - which in her case does not mean the recording of detail, but the alertness to just those features that set each person and each moment apart. Of course, some of her subjects are busy trying to be stereotypes, dressing to fit the fashions and acting comme il faut, but even as they act their roles, something betrays their too-earnest effort to Peggy Bacon's eager eye, and they emerge as their homely selves.

Earlier in the century the new humanist group advocated a return to the classics and a belief in the ascendency of man through the conquest of the intellect. There were two traditional ways of assessing human kind: One was to consider man as being essentially fallible - as in the phrase "it's only human"; the other was to believe man as being by nature capable of the highest physical, intellectual and imaginative achievements and of being truly human only insofar as he strives to fulfill these capabilities. Certainly in her preoccupation with people, often with those of recognized achievement, Peggy Bacon has not been about to deny the essential dignity of life and the worth of human accomplishment. Yet to judge from her work, with an un-classical impudence she might tend to consider a living "great" an interesting person in spite of is being a philosopher, artist, or politician. There is nothing bitter in her irony, however, no rant against the nature and fate of man. People and happenings have always been interesting to Peggy Bacon, and she transmits that interest - a value not to be underrated - to her viewers.

Looking today at Peggy Bacon's prints and drawings from the 1920s and 1930s, it is hard to avoid an element of nostalgia that glazes our view of a society that, in retrospect, seems to have been so sure of itself, even when prodding its weaknesses. The group of New York artists and writers who often make up the Bacon cast of characters exhibits a kind of camaraderie not yet made vicious by the pressures of an expanded market and competition fostered by doctrinaire criticism. As depicted by Peggy Bacon, they regard each other's eccentricities with the same affection and satisfaction as she, believing that each is the most something-or-other that has ever been. The faces of people who did things of note were not yet mechanically repeated to the point of visual absurdity by the public media, and a face was still believable as a sign of character and accomplishment. It was possibly, the last great moment of caricature, which depends on a belief in the direct and un-tampered-with relationship between inner promptings and external appearance, and above all on an unquestioning belief in the value of individuality for its own sale, not as a marketable commodity.

In its way, then, Peggy Bacon's art is an act of faith. So strong is her belief in the peopleness of people - even in feline form - that she persuades us to stop worrying for a moment about the ultimate fate of nations and mankind, to recognize and appreciate the irrepressible and eccentric vitality that keeps our domestic world alive.




Avis Berman. The Loving Eye of Peggy Bacon, 1996. Kraushaar Galleries

Bacon’s caricatures may level their targets a bit, but they usually don’t scar or devastate. Perhaps she was irreverent rather than vicious because so many of her subjects were in the artist’s own crowd. She knew her sitters too well to be cowed by their reputation or demeanor, and she drew them in a wry informal manner born of intimate experience.

Bacon started her print-making career in 1918, with a drypoint depicting the lunchroom in the Art Students League; and she followed it with scenes of her classes there with George Bellows and local restaurants in the Carnegie Hall area where she and her friends congregated. These prints are distinguished by their complex multi-figural compositions as much as their wit and humor, and her adroitness at confecting group scenes loaded with vividly recognizable individuals grew throughout the 1920s. In the 1930s she produced fluid lithographs and alternated them with drypoints and etchings. In all of these works, Bacon was highly cognizant that her teachers, classmates, friends, critics, and enemies were distinctive creatures whose peculiarities of face, physique, and expression where innately interesting – and comic – in whatever they did from pitching in on a moving day to entertaining their children.
Biography

CV

born 1895 in Ridgefield, CT
died 1987 in Kennebunk, ME

studied
1913 Kent Place School
1915-20 Art Students League, NY - read more

public collections include
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco CA
Art Insitute of Chicago, IL
Baltimore Museum of Art, MD
Boston Public Library, MA
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco CA
Guild Hall, East Hampton NY
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of American Art, Washington DC
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York
New York Public Library
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
St. Louis Art Museum, MO
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Reviews

Bibliography

Peggy Bacon - Personalities and Places. Foreword by Joshua C. Taylor, Essay by Roberta K. Tarbell, Checklist of Prints by Janet A. Flint. Published by the Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, DC. 1975. pp. 1-166. Also includes a exhibition checklist from Kraushaar Galleries, 1996
$20

Peggy Bacon both wrote and illustrated books
for further information look at records in the Archives of American Art


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Catalogue Raisonné
Peggy Bacon Personalities and Places, Janet Flint, National Collection of Fine Arts (now Smithsonian Museum of American Art), Washington DC, 1975






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