Francis McCracken was born in Northern Ireland in 1879. His family emigrated first to Australia, then to New Zealand, where he received his first art lessons at Elam School of Fine Arts under Charles Friström.
In 1914 he left New Zealand with the NZ Expeditionary Force and was severely wounded at Ypres in West Flanders. After the war he renewed his art studies at Edinburgh at the Royal Scottish Academy School. There he established lifelong friendships with Graham Munro (1903 – 1985) and John Weeks (1888 – 1965).
McCracken won many awards early on, including the Carnegie Travelling Scholarship. This enabled him to travel to Florence and Paris, where he was influenced by Cubism in the studio of André Lhôte. McCracken exhibited at the Paris Salon, the Royal Academy, the Glasgow Institute, and the Walker Art Gallery. In 1939 he loaned several works to the Centennial Exhibition of International and New Zealand Art.
McCracken’s work shares many features of the Scottish Colourists, such as attention to the painted surface over perspectival arrangement. In particular his work shows an assured use of broad colour for effect.
Unfortunately during the last twenty years of his life he rarely exhibited, and thus only his models and a few intimate friends saw his later works. Upon his death in 1959, Munro organised a retrospective exhibition of McCracken’s paintings at the Royal Scottish Academy. Subsequently Munro arranged the sale of three works to the Auckland City Art Gallery.
Today McCracken’s works can be found in major art galleries and private collections both in New Zealand and overseas. He is represented at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery by a self-potrait presented by the Scottish Arts Council in 1997.