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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon
Peggy Bacon
When someone mentions the name, Bacon, in connection with art, the first person to come to mind is usually British artist, Francis Bacon...or possibly the 16th century British writer, philosopher, and scientist, Sir Francis Bacon (no relation). However, no relation to either of these was the American artist/illustrator, Peggy Bacon. If you've ever heard of her before, you must be one of those who like to scan old issues of The New Yorker or Town and Country magazines from the 1920s and 30s. Peggy Bacon was a rare breed in her time. She was a female cartoonist and caricaturist. She was also a writer, printmaker, painter, and cat lover. Though really not much of a painter, likewise, she was a cartoonist only in the broadest sense of the word. As a cartoonist, Peggy was not hilarious. She seldom relied on what cartoonists term a "gag." Her cartoon illustrations were merely amusing little drawings, and in their gentle, genre subject matter, designed to make the reader smile, rather than guffaw.
The Untilled Field, Peggy Bacon. He gets his hair from his mother.
A Proud Child, Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon was born in 1895 in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Her parents were artists, having met while attending the Art Students League in New York. During the early years of her life she was what we'd today call "home schooled" in subjects such as Latin, Greek mythology, ancient history, and geography. Her parents were nomadic, living first in provincial France, then Paris, and during the summer, in Bermuda. At the age of 14, Peggy began to attend a boarding school in New Jersey. Around the same time her alcoholic father committed suicide, leaving the family destitute. After high school, like her parents, Peggy began studying at the Art Students League, falling under the influence of the Social Realism (or Ashcan) school painters such as John Sloan and George Bellows. And since no one at the Art Students League taught printmaking, Peggy taught herself, while publishing a student newspaper where her humorous illustrations and caricatures first began to appear.

Peggy and Metaphysic, 1935,
Alexander Brook
In 1920, Peggy Bacon married fellow artist, Alexander Brook, a mediocre portrait painter from Woodstock, New York. During the next several years they moved between the London and Woodstock, art worlds during which time Peggy gave birth to two children. The couple was divorced in 1940. Always the more successful of the two, in attempting to make ends meet, Peggy began writing and illustrating children's books, usually featuring one or more cats as major characters. Her mystery, The Inward Eye was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award. In all, she wrote and illustrated 19 books, illustrating more than forty others, most involving cats.

Peggy's caricatures were not
limited just to art world figures.
Her satirical portraits depicting art world figures of her day she published in a book titled Off with Their Heads. Later, Peggy Bacon began teaching at the Art Students League as well as Hunter College, Fieldston School, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. Late in life, as her unique contribution to the graphic arts came to be appreciated, Peggy received numerous national awards for her work. In 1975 she was honored with a yearlong retrospective at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art. Her career ended in the 1970s as her eyesight began failing her. She died in 1987 at the age of 91.

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