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"Levitating Lucinda: the Copeless Children"

William Bacon-Fryer

The early 19th-century artist Bacon-Fryer was born long before his time. A hundred years later he would have been recognized as a leading surrealist, easily the equal of René Magritte, who floated just about everything he could lay his paintbrush on, or Marc Chagall, who was also big on floating, especially people. 

Alas, in the 1820s people generally expected a portrait to be a portrait, and for an artist to leave the funny stuff out of it. Bacon-Fryer managed to control himself when he painted Ellie and Nellie in this childhood grouping, but he lost it when it came to poor Lucinda, showing her bobbing along in mid-air as though she were one of the offspring of Pierre Janssen, discoverer of helium, immortalized elsewhere in our collection.

Bacon-Fryer could not understand why people did not appreciate his works, which he claimed were "light-hearted, ebullient — even effervescent." Driven to despair by constant rejection he later gave up on human portraiture and toured the state fairs, painting blue-ribbon cattle, sheep, horses and swine. Here, too, his compulsion overcame him. Several of his final works show only a set of hooves dangling near the top of the canvas high above a pastoral landscape. 

His last work was found by his landlady on the morning after his disappearance. Although titled "Self-portrait," it consists of nothing more than a chair placed beside an open window.


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