Francis Bacon was an American designer born in 1856 who worked for Herter Brothers and later in H. H. Richardson’s office. In 1885, he joined A.H. Davenport, one of the most important commercial decorating firms in the United States. He is remembered for incorporating the ideals of handcraftsmanship into machine-made production. He designed the case for the Glessners’ Steinway piano in the parlor.
Frances Glessner had wanted to purchase an upright piano for her new home on Prairie Avenue, but she was such an accomplished pianist and music lover that her husband determined she should have “the finest piano that could be made.” On May 15, 1887, Frances Glessner noted in her journal that she “made arrangements for a Steinway piano.” Nahum Stetson, Chief of Sales and member of the Board of Steinway & Sons, supervised the production of this piano, indicating that the company considered this a very important commission. When the instrument was finished, Theodore Thomas, founding conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, traveled to the Steinway factory and tried out the instrument, giving it his approval before delivery for decoration to A. H. Davenport and Company’s chief designer, Francis Bacon.
Francis Henry Bacon had received a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1877 and spent several years working with such architecture firms as the prestigious McKim, Meade and Bigelow in New York. During these years he also traveled and studied in Europe, working on the excavations of Assos, Turkey during two years of travel with the Archaeological Institute of America.
Francis Bacon first designed furniture for Herter Brothers, the firm engaged by William H. Vanderbilt to decorate his New York City mansion. In 1883, Bacon began working in the office of celebrated American architect H.H. Richardson. By 1885 he had become principle designer for A. H. Davenport and Company, where he later served as vice-president. There he translated the handcraft ideals of the late nineteenth century into machine-produced furniture designs. Because of Bacon’s earlier affiliation with Richardson’s firm, and because Richardson’s office was extremely busy at the time, Bacon, and in turn Davenport and Company, were given furniture commissions for many of Richardson’s late buildings. The Glessners’ finished piano cost $1,500 and weighed 900 pounds. It was shipped from Davenport and Company to the Glessners’ home on December 23, 1887, a suitable Christmas present for a family who had moved into their new house three weeks earlier.