The Old Print Shop

Peggy Bacon


Peggy Bacon was an American printmaker, painter, illustrator and caricaturist, born on May 2, 1895, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  Her youth was filled with continued movement. Her parents were artists and traveled a great deal to pursue their careers. As a result, she lived in New York City, London, several parts of France, and Nassau Island in the Bahamas - all before the age of fourteen. In an interview in 1973, Bacon noted that her parents were not fond of the educational system, so she was tutored for most of her youth. Rather than focusing on the usual academics, she studied whatever subjects she fancied: language, mythology and bits of ancient history, and geography. However, that all changed at fourteen. At the behest of family friends, she was sent to the Kent Place School in New Jersey, where she underwent a “crash course in arithmetic so that I could study algebra with my class the next year.”

After her father committed suicide in 1913, life changed rather dramatically for Bacon. With the help of a family friend, she and her mother moved to New York City. Little did she know how important the move would be in launching her career. She studied at the School of Fine and Applied Art, where she became life-long friends with sculptor, Dorothea Greenbaum, and painter, Helen Park Stockman. The three of them would move their studies to the Art Students League in 1915. For the next two summers, Bacon studied in Provincetown. It was a time when the area was booming with artistic creativity with local arts mixing with those coming out of war-torn Europe. It was so influential the Boston Globe dubbed Provincetown “The Biggest Art Colony in the World” in 1916. Bacon also spent a summer in Woodstock in 1918 to study with modernist, Andrew Dasburg. That same summer she developed a relationship with fellow art student and future husband, Alex Brook.

Andrew Dasburg was not the only famous artist Bacon studied under through the Art Students League. Over the five years she attended the school, she studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller, John Sloan, and George Bellows.

Bacon started making drypoints around 1918. At the time she happened to be taking classes with John Sloan.

“One time in one of my drypoints there was one figure, one girl in it who really seemed quite pretty. And [Sloan] said, ‘This is obviously a self-portrait of the artist because all the others are monsters and she is the one that is pretty.’ The funny part was that it wasn't I, it was Katherine Schmidt who married Kuniyoshi. But I thought: oh, dear, that's what he thinks of me. But I didn't have the nerve to go up and explain to him. And it was only in the late 1950's when he and Helen Sloan came down and spent the evening with me on 13th Street that I told him about that incident: that it was not I; that it was not a self-portrait. I had caricatured myself just as strongly as I had the others. . .he was very much amused.”

1918 was a major year for Bacon. It was the year she started developing the technique she would become so well known for - caricature. Her very first caricatures were drawn in the classroom with George Bellows. Her talent for the technique would lead to her being hired as an illustrator for a number of major publication firms, such as Vanity Fair, The American Mercury, and The New Yorker. Bacon also illustrated more than sixty children’s books during her lifetime. They were not the only publications she worked on. She also wrote novels and poetry and compiled a number of volumes such as “Off with Their Heads” (1934) in which she caricatured well known artists of the day.

Her caricatures of New York life, in particular, won her acclaim. She would often take ordinary elements of life and turn them into comedy. Most of her works were created using her favored medium - drypoint, but she also experimented with etching and lithography. Bacon spent most of her life in the big city but in later years moved to Maine. She passed away in Kennebunk in 1987.

Bacon was featured in numerous solo exhibitions hosted at such important galleries as Weyhe Galleries (which represented her for many years), Stieglitz's Intimate Gallery, Downtown Gallery, Montross Gallery, and Rehn Galleries.

Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; and others.


- "Oral history interview with Peggy Bacon, 1973 May 8." Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution