John Bacon (1740-1799), British sculptor, was born in Southwark on the 24th of November 1740, the son of Thomas Bacon, a cloth-worker, 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 small ornamental pieces of china, but by his great skill in moulding he soon attained the distinction of being modeller to the work. While engaged in the porcelain works his observation of the models executed by different sculptors of eminence, which were sent to be burned at an adjoining pottery, determined the direction of his genius; he devoted himself to the imitation of them with so much success that in 1758 a small figure of Peace 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 "getting out the points") by the invention of a more perfect instrument for the purpose. This instrument possessed many advantages above those formerly employed; it was more exact, took a correct measurement in every direction, was contained in a small compass, and could be used upon either the model or the marble. In the year 1769 he was adjudged the first gold medal for sculpture given by the Royal Academy, his work being a bas-relief representing the escape of Aeneas from Troy. In 1770 he exhibited a figure of Mars, which gained him the gold medal of the Society of Arts and his election as A.R.A. As a consequence of this success he was engaged to execute a bust of George III., intended for Christ Church, Oxford. He secured the king's favour and retained it throughout life. 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.
He died on the 4th of August 1799 and was buried in Whitfield's Tabernacle. His various productions which may be studied in 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 Richard Cecil, Memoirs of John Bacon, R.A. (London. 1801); and also vol. i. of R. Cecil's works, ed. J. Pratt (1811).