Francis Bacon: Revelations

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan

Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan chart the life and art of the formidable Francis Bacon, a towering figure in 20th century art. Through 25 choice images, the duo sketch a more varied, nuanced, and surprising character than typically known of the celebrated bon vivant. The conversation is expanded by art critic, curator, and artist Robert Storr, bringing together three luminaries of contemporary art writing.

Sign up or Login to comment and join the discussion.

Mark Stevens (MS): Hello, we thought we would begin with a few images of Bacon, just to give everyone a taste of what we would be talking about later. This first image is a charming old photograph of Bacon and his mother.

Bacon grew up in extremely privileged circumstances, among the big houses of Anglo-Irish Ireland, just outside Dublin, where nothing was more important than a horse. And the religion was fox hunting. Like most old photographs, though, this one conceals a great deal, and the charm is a bit of a lie, because Bacon also grew up under circumstances of intense difficulty: a suffocating physical and emotional childhood.

His mother was a young socialite, she liked to ride side-saddle. His father was a dyspeptic major, who was embarrassed by his girly son. Outside the door of the big houses, the Irish revolution was beginning to brew. Bacon remembered that there were whispers in the woods — watchers in the woods — and Bacon himself was gravely ill as a child. He was a desperate asthmatic who was allergic to horses.

Here we see two women who helped Bacon, in effect, escape from this difficult childhood. On the left is Granny Supple with her husband, his grandmother. She was a flamboyant, eccentric, fabulously rich woman who did exactly as she liked. She took the young Bacon to parties with her, and he began to understand that life could have sparkle, that there could be a performance, that he could succeed in the world. Very different kind of woman that you see here was his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who gave him a very different perspective but also a fresh perspective. She was a working-class sort of person, down to earth, funny, mischievous. It was probably with nanny that he began to develop his interest in a working-class perspective.

Annalyn Swan (AS): This is a photograph of the young Francis Bacon in his early twenties by a photographer in London, Francis Julian Guttmann.

Francis had just returned to London after a year and a half on the continent, first in Weimar Germany and then in Paris. He in later life alluded to seeing a Picasso show at the gallery Paul Rosenburg while he was in Paris, but in point of fact, what he did primarily in his almost year and a quarter in Paris, was to study design, and sort of ingratiate himself into the world of design. It was very easy to do at the time, there was a large expatriate community of designers and fashion people, in Paris. He was very, very taken by the studio he saw, Jean Desert, of his fellow Anglo-Irishman Eileen Gray, who was both a designer and architect of note.

And so here is the fruition of Francis Bacon’s early, approximately four-year career in design. In later years he strove vitally to erase this part of his life from the official record. But in fact, in 1930, he had a very successful show of design, his furniture designs were very starkly modern in the tradition of Eileen Gray, the abstract geometric forms on the rugs, everything through other influences but basically Eileen Gray was at the top of the list of the people who had influenced him. He was very proud of this; he later sent a photograph to his mother — she kept it — but otherwise Bacon really did everything he could to expunge this from his official resume.

And here is an equal early success of Francis Bacon, a 1933 Crucifixion that was shown at the very fashionable Freddy Mayor Gallery in Mayfair. It’s attenuated, a very almost ghostly, evanescent figure set against black. Obviously, it shows a clear debt to Picasso, and in fact it ran in a publication called Art Now, that came out of the show, and it was placed opposite a Picasso. But what we stress in the book is that there was something very new here, the ghostly x-ray quality of this painting. It was not only a success for people that came to the gallery, but it was included in Herbert Read’s Art Now publication which was a bit of a bible for modern art at the time. It was also bought by Sir Michael Saddler, who was one of the major collectors of the time. And so, you would have thought that Bacon was off and running to a great painter career, and then it all came screechingly to a halt.

MS: This is Eric Hall, a pillar of the Tory establishment, who was Bacon’s most important early lover. He was with Bacon for almost twenty years, and he supported him through some very, very difficult times. Eric Hall was a very conservative man, but he had a secret life, a concealed life. He was married with children, but he longed to be with Francis Bacon, and he actually arranged for them to live not always together but very close together. Eric Hall also had a pleasure-loving side, he loved great wine, the best food, the south of France, gambling. All of this was mostly concealed from the world because he was a well-known, in fact, London city politician. But you can see something of his baroque inner life in this wonderful portrait by Roy de Maistre — a great friend of Bacon’s, an early friend of Bacon’s — in the flocked wallpaper behind him. It suggests a concealed inner life, that is florid, rich and sumptuous.

AS: This is the Lodge, a cottage on the campus of the Bedales school, about 16 miles from London. This is where Bacon spent two very formative years in his life. Eery early in the war he had signed up to be in the Red Cross as a driver, and later on he switched over to the Air Raid Precautions program which was essentially the front line for self-defence in London. When the Blitz came of course his lungs were pulverised by all the dust, so he was given a leave, he retreated to this house on the Bedales campus that Eric Hall rented for him. And these 2 years that he spent here, again like his designing career, Bacon hardly ever talked about them in later years, but it was here that he began to develop the vision that would culminate in his famous Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. He looked at war images in the Picture Post magazine, he painted on fibre board. These images would eventually lead right into his works of the 1940s. And most of all he read — Aeschylus, Nietzsche. Really, it was a formative moment for the Bacon development of the future.

MS: This of course is the triptych that launched Bacon’s career. It came after ten years of almost total failure. Ten years in which he worked very hard; he was practically a prototypical young romantic artist in the garret. Something he never, something he never wanted the world to know. But this is the culmination of many, many years of work. It was painted probably in 1944 and it shocked Londoners for a number of reasons when it was exhibited. One of them, I mean there were many reasons, but one of them is the vile orange colour. It reminded Londoners, or it would remind them, of the fires during the Blitz and during the war years. And it was nothing like that kind of colour that you would put into a drawing room. It was vile. And then, the central figure is very, very disturbing. He’s eyeless, he has a bandage around its head, a great grinning mouth. But he’s disturbing mostly because he’s intimate, he’s like a disagreeable relative that you don’t want to know. Or somebody who’s going to slide down the bar and begin talking to you. In other words, he’s close, and what that means is that as Londoners look at these monsters, these half human monsters, they can’t just say ‘Oh, it was the Germans’ fault, it was other people’. That intimate look of that central figure says, ‘No, no. The monster is also us.’.

This is Head I from 1948. The triptych that you just saw was actually painted in a way that Bacon was leaving behind. He was moving towards a much more tonal, subtle, and kind of monochromatic painting. In this picture, this remarkable picture, he all but slides the face off the English tradition of portraiture. He releases that studied, mannered, in-control surface that English portraiture always had, to reveal behind it a rather poignant monstrous face. That line that attaches to the ear that seems to release the face from the head, that line is really exquisitely taut, and abstract, and you don’t know where it leads. It’s part of that background — the ground around the figure — that would become so important in Bacon.

AS: This is a portrait of, a photograph of Muriel Belcher, the queen among the queens at the famous Colony Room, which was the go-to place for Francis Bacon and so many of his friends in the 1940-50s, and really until Muriel’s death years later. Bacon found his way here through the dissolute poet Brian Howard. Howard met him on the street once, told him that there was a brand-new club opening-up. Soho had been the go-to place for bohemians all throughout the war. There were little cafes underground, in basements below street levels in London, but then the clubs started moving upstairs. Muriel was at the forefront of that. As we write in the book, ‘She had a machine gun chatter,’ as one Colony goer described it, and delighted in in evicting those she didn’t like: ‘Members only dearie and get a face lift on your way’. Muriel offered Bacon champagne to bring in all of his interesting friends, and meanwhile he and Muriel became fast friends immediately, and lifelong friends.

This is a painting of 1953, Study after Velasquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. He painted a series of six very famous popes in the early ‘50s. This one is particularly grand; it depicts the pontiff seated on a regal throne, but striated black ribbons of paint come from the top to the bottom, sort of encaging him as if in a prison. His mouth is open wide in a scream. We write in the book that it’s as if he has seen not the Holy Father but a demon [laughs] in this painting.

MS: Bacon liked to pretend that he was invulnerable to love, he put the word in scare quotes when he was speaking typically. But he was anything but. This is Peter Lacy, the love of Bacon’s life, they met in in the early 1950s. Lacy came from a very wealthy family. He was aristocratic in his manner and bearing. He looks like a blonde actor from the 1940s or ‘50s, whose name you can’t quite remember. Bacon was so in love he said that even his cats were beautiful.

This is Two Figures from 1953, and it’s an iconic picture of homosexual passion. It could not be shown in 1953. It was rumoured about, it was something that people would visit. The person who eventually purchased it, or was given it, was Lucian Freud who kept it over his bed for the rest of his life. Freud was not himself a homosexual, but he surely loved the beautiful way the paint is handled, the pungent character of the flesh, but also the remarkably complex expression of the two heads. The relationship between ferocity and tenderness is remarkable there. People would say about Peter Lacy and Bacon, they turned it into a very melodramatic, kind of sadomasochistic love story. But in fact, it was the most important love affair, actually the most important relationship in both men’s life, and it ended only in 1962 with Lacy’s death.

AS: Here is Bacon with Joseph Dean of Dean’s bar fame in Tangier. Bacon and Peter Lacy had tried to live together, tried to live apart, next door, every possible combination, but in 1953 they had what both of them thought at the time was the irrevocable break up. Nonetheless, in 1956 Bacon suddenly received a telegram from Peter Lacy saying, ‘Would you care to join me in Tangier?’, where Lacy had moved. So, Bacon was ecstatic. He inveigled a loan from his patron Robert Sainsbury in order to get the next plane down there. For the next three and a half years, Bacon was in and out of Tangier, at one point living there for well over a year and painting somewhat successfully. But Joseph Dean was one of the mysterious characters in Tangier. Nobody knew where he came from, but this bar scene was extremely popular in the expatriate community.

MS: This is Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962. This was the culmination of Bacon’s 1962 Tate retrospective, and the moment when he really entered the mainstream of European culture and English culture in particular. There are so many things to say about this triptych, it’s probably the most difficult one to look at in all of Bacon’s work. The central image is almost impossible to look at for long, but nonetheless it repays long study. I’ll just mention one thing about it that interests me, and it’s embodied in the phrase ‘human sacrifice’. On the right you see a crucifixion scene, it comes from Cimabue, a 13th century crucifix in which a sinuous figure is crucified. And it suggests a kind of social sacrifice. In the centre, you see a purely modern sacrifice, and there’s a delirium in the handling of the paint, a kind of suddenness and splatter that is not just random. There’s a kind of joy in it which is very, very disturbing. There’s a kind of joy in the delirium of blood. And, on the left side, you see what I think of as commentators, critics, people like us, they’re looking at the human sacrifice. I love the one all the way on the left who has shoulders kind-of hunched up, as if about to emit something important about human sacrifice.

This is Bacon’s famous studio at 7 Reece Mews, it’s an almost comical scene, I think, it could be a Cro-Magnon cave with layers of sediment, and generations of bones and garbage. Or, it could be a hermit’s retreat, or it could be … it’s a scene of ruins. Bacon regarded the stuff that was all around there as a kind of imaginative mulch that he would draw upon, bits and pieces of the past that could inform his current paintings.

AS: So, Bacon in the 1960s painted many, many portraits. That was sort of his portraiture decade. This is one of the grandest, it’s a 1967 painting of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a street in Soho. Isabel is a commanding presence in her black dress, staring imperiously out over one would think of as her admirers. In the background is a car in the process of somehow transmogrifying into a ball. She’s framed in a brown circle and with a sort of blue above her indicating the sky. Isabel Rawsthorne was a particularly good friend of Francis Bacon, and he would go on to paint her another 15 or so times.

This is the boys: Francis Bacon and George Dyer dressed to go out into town in the 1960s. George Dyer, a petty crook, came into Bacon’s life in 1963. The sort of mythologised version was that Dyer fell through the skylight of Bacon’s 7 Reece Mews studio whilst burgling, and Bacon said to him ‘Oh, I won’t report you if you go to bed with me right on the spot’. This was actually not true, they met in an upscale homosexual bar near Harrods, but George was indeed an East End thug — a very ineffectual one, as Lucian Freud has always pointed out, but they would be staying together for approximately the next decade. And George was very, very good at one thing, which was sitting still so that Bacon could paint his portrait, which he did many number of times.

MS: This is a painting of George on a bicycle, and we included it just to show that Bacon is not always what you think he is. This is Bacon, I think, having a pretty good time with George. And what’s particularly notable about it, and reveals one aspect of Bacon’s character, is Bacon absolutely loved George Dyer’s profile. He loved that great proud nose, which could almost be leading a ship like a figurehead. And John Russell thought this was a wonderful painting, and considered this view of George Dyer as the English everyman that Bacon had captured for his time; the English everyman.

AS: This is a photograph of Bacon standing in this sumptuous setting, a restaurant, following the opening of his 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, which was in many ways the apex of his career. Five hundred people are in this room; 134 paintings that they’ve all just seen in the Grand Palais. The French government was there in attendance as well, it was a marvellous, marvellous occasion because Francis Bacon loved Paris and France so much. What is hidden in this photograph, is that the very morning of this opening of his exhibit, George Dyer had died on, in their shared hotel room on the loo, from an overdose of alcohol and drugs, and here was Bacon performing before this crowd, having had this second tragedy land in his lap. The very first was right after the opening of his first Tate retrospective in 1962, when came a notice that Peter Lacy had died.

MS: After Dyer’s death Bacon, who was distraught, painted several triptychs of the death that together I think amount to a remarkable and profound meditation on death, something that you don’t usually see in 20th century art. Here, on either side, you see Dyer while he’s still alive seated in a chair. His colour is fresh, you can see that the pinks and flesh tone are bright and alive, but then again in the central panel you see that he has the dishevelled form of death. He’s a heap, he’s a hump. But the really disturbing thing about the central panel is of course that cold violet pool. Violet is a colour often used to depict flowers, it’s a colour that almost has a smell, a fragrance. And there, a heartbeat hardly disturbs that cold violet pool.

MS: This is Bacon with John Edwards who was, like George Dyer, another Cockney rogue, in a way. He was charming, outgoing, full of smiles, he brought a lot of warmth to Bacon’s melancholy last years. He was also, though, a bit of a hustler. He was very interested in Bacon’s money, and Bacon didn’t really mind that. Bacon would say that, well, when having a one-night stand with a hustler, he would be disappointed if someone didn’t steal his watch.

AS: These are two self-portraits that Bacon painted, one in 1972 and the other in 1979. In his self-portraits we often see the mood of Bacon at the moment. The 1972 one is a sort of eyes downcast, quietly contemplative, with broad brushstrokes very much in command of the canvas. In contrast, the 1979 self-portrait is of the face coming apart. It’s of an aging queen, his lipstick is smeared, there’s pan cake make up on his face. At this particular moment in time, Bacon was very upset because John Edwards was moving away from him; he stayed in his life, but he made it perfectly clear to Bacon that he was going to have only a certain role in his life. So, the two images together are extremely revealing of Bacon’s moods.

This is the final martini that Francis Bacon had in Madrid, or at least the last one that was photographed. In 1987, he met a very charming Spaniard — an upper class cultured, very intelligent Spaniard — named Jose Capelo. He and Jose embarked on a relationship; they travelled greatly around Europe and Bacon often went to Madrid. In fact, this was his final trip. He went to Madrid to see Jose against his doctor’s orders, wound up dying in the Clinica Ruber Hospital not very long after this final photograph.

MS: This is Bacon’s final painting called Study of a Bull. He probably knew it was his final painting. I myself think he intended it to be his final painting because it’s annunciatory. It has nothing to do with shouting and it has everything to do with whispers and asphyxiation, a kind of slow suffocating death. The bull is a messenger, and kind of an angel of death. You can tell because his horn, one of his horns, is in the shape of a scythe or a sickle which is an ancient symbol of mortality.

I think with that we’ve buried Bacon and we can get onto the conversation.



Robert Storr (RS): You wrote a very long, and very good, biography of Willem de Kooning some years ago and won a Pulitzer Prize for it. Now you’ve done a second very long and very good biography, but it’s Francis Bacon and I would ask you why Francis Bacon? And do you not see some interesting friction between the two of them, since de Kooning represented many things that Bacon did not really believe in or like?

MS: Well, I think we were attracted to Bacon because number one, he’s like de Kooning. He has a sort of emblematic importance for his society and culture that goes even beyond his art. He’s a figure of a certain kind, and his art has certain things that seems particularly important to the temper of the 20th century. And yes, they are very different in a way that we found fascinating. De Kooning of course was highly trained, Bacon was an autodidact. He invented all almost from scratch. So, there were lots of differences apart from the obvious heterosexual/homosexual one. They came from a very different position in western culture.

AS: I’d like to add, Rob, when we embarked on this, to your point we were coming off the hunky-hetero De Kooning, charming as the day is long, to Francis Bacon, who could also of course command his stage but was a very different person. And I was initially a little concerned about what we would find there, would we wind up liking Francis Bacon? But the more we got into the project, the more admirable and actually fetching Bacon became.

RS: Well, I think there are any number of differences, and I don’t want to go too long about them but, for example, Bacon was a man who was born to privilege and had it for much of his life even though he played Russian roulette with it at the same time (or just played roulette with it). So, he was a man of means who took considerable financial and other risks. De Kooning was more like a working-class hero. Now, I think this accounts in part for the difference in receptions in this country [the United States] between the two. Embracing de Kooning is easier, probably, for a democratic so-called American audience than embracing Bacon who seems to come from another reality, another social reality. Do you see those things as dynamic issues at all?

MS: Well, I think that’s an interesting observation, in fact. There are many reasons why Bacon is not as well liked, at least by the critical establishment in the United States as opposed to Europe. But that is one of them. Bacon has an aristocratic kind of character and temperament. De Kooning has the charm of a working-class immigrant. There is no denying that. They’re both very, very intelligent men. They said very, very intelligent things about art. But yes, their perspective was fundamentally formed in a different crucible.

RS: And, interestingly enough, David Sylvester interviewed both of them and got very good information out of both of them so there’s a way in which David’s interviews conjugate the difference in detail.

MS: They do, and of course Sylvester was very interested in artists continuing to address the figure. So, I think for Sylvester, de Kooning, because he held onto the body and to the figure, and Bacon the same, I think there was a kind of connection there across the Atlantic.

AS: One other thing about David Sylvester I’d like to mention: He at one point said that he could see Francis Bacon in this great tradition of English portraiture, that you would be in a grand house and you’d be going down through the hundreds of ancestral portraits and you’d get to the end of the line, and he said, ‘and there would be a mouldering Bacon portrait’. And I think that also speaks to one other point that you raise, which is that Bacon does seem more in a tradition, a European tradition and possibly and English tradition, and De Kooning was something else. He brought classical training and then opened it up with his great brush strokes and American vision. So, each was appropriate, I guess one could argue, within the context of his own country.

RS: I think there’s a way in which de Kooning is exactly the American immigrant story of refreshing something old, at the same time as creating something entirely new. And Bacon was kind of the extender beyond points that people would’ve recognised in the beginning of the grand tradition. And, also, he was kind of the Dorian Gray of that tradition because at the end what you have is this very worn, ragged, somewhat rotten-looking portrait but in the idiom of the classic.

MS: Well, Susan Sontag once said that she thought it was a great strength of Bacon that he had this connection to the Old Master tradition. And I think what she meant was that it was a truthful relation, there is something like torn velvet or rotting flowers, there’s an almost fume in Bacon’s work where you feel the great tradition beginning to moulder as Annalyn says. And that’s a truthful feeling for that time, coming out of the Second World War. That’s a real aspect of what people were feeling, and the connection feels true, at least to me.

AS: Also, your reference to Dorian Gray is very telling to me because of course Dorian Gray is out there performing, doing his evil deeds, while the portrait moulders and he continues, eternally handsome. But Bacon, you know, was such a performer —  so, that kind of fits for him as well. There was the Bacon on the great stage, the figure that everybody knew, and then there was the other Bacon, which we went pains to probe and study in our book. The other Bacon was very much a hidden person behind the performing Oscar Wildean figure, and that gave us a lot of interesting new ground to cover.

RS: Indeed, it does. Why do you think he was so hidden?

MS: Well, for number one, he’s a homosexual so he never hid his homosexuality, but he grew up in a situation where he learned to perform, and his great fascination was to fling open closets of every kind, I mean not just the sexual closet but also the good taste closet. He was determined not to be in good taste, or whatever was the good taste of the time. He did not like to be imprisoned in any way. And his sense of release, I mean one of the reasons why we called the book Revelations is because he always wanted that sense of ‘jack in the box’ flying upward and hitting the nerve, at least in his early work. And he was just determined, theatrically, to create that kind of feeling.

RS: Well, I was going to remark on the title Revelations, because there are revelations indeed in your book, and you do an enormous amount of spade into his background and his family’s background and so on, but parts of his life remain utterly opaque. And that’s not things that maybe a biographer can get to, but the lack of drawings in a culture, in our culture, which celebrates drawing above all else. The fact that we don’t know about an awful lot of paintings which were destroyed, and we don’t even know even where they were headed, or why he embarked on that path and then abandoned it, means that we only see the Bacon that Bacon edited. We don’t Bacon in the complete, messy reality that you do see in Reece Mews.

AS: Well, actually, you do see a bit of the unedited Bacon though, because early paintings were sold both by the person who took over his Tangier studio and also the person who took over Cromwell Place from him. So, there are paintings out there that you can see, that would not have passed the mustard for Bacon. And you know he only let many of those paintings go to market when he was desperate. So, even the works that survived there are the A+ Bacons that we all know, and there are the lesser Bacons. You know, he worked out of chance, so he tried to correct them when it was wrong, but he didn’t always have the opportunity to do that.

MS: Yes, it’s very important that he’s so self-taught, he probably took some drawing lessons in Paris when he was young. Roy de Maistre showed him a few things, but otherwise he created his own world, he taught himself. And, as a result, he did exactly as he liked. He didn’t like to draw, I think myself that the reason is partly that lines constrict, he was very much in the Venetian tradition. He loved Velasquez where somehow magically, mysteriously the paint and brushstroke come together to create flesh. That’s what he liked, he liked to create flesh without the imprisonment of line.

RS: I think that’s quite true. And as he created it — created flesh — that was, in a way, rotting. I mean there’s a great poem by Baudelaire called Une Charogne, in which a couple are passing in a pastoral scene, and they talk to each other of love and so on, and then they notice that there is a rotting corpse beside the road, and then they get fascinated with that. And that’s a little bit of what Bacon did, he directed your attention to the rotting corpse. And then he painted that beautifully.

I’m not sure who it was. There is some disagreement. I thought it was Twain, somebody else thinks it’s Bernard Shaw but the saying, which you probably know, is that ‘English is the common language that separates two great countries’ – Britain and the United States – and in a way the art worlds of Britain and the United States are also separated in that fashion. One of the things I really enjoyed in this book is — more so than in any place that I’ve seen since Lord Snowden and John Russell did their book on the English art world, ‘A Private View’ — you really layout the ground of whose who, and what was what, and how the art scene worked in Britain. And I think that’s something most people don’t know, the British revival or whatever it was in the ‘90s comes on top a long history which most people aren’t aware of. And I wonder if in conceiving of the role of biographer you also thought of yourselves as being social historians of the things that are unattended?

AS: I think you’d have to be. You know, I think that when you do a biography of a figure you have to immerse yourself in the world in any way you possibly can. And that, for example, is just one in introducing an American audience to neo-romanticism in British art — which people now have long since forgotten — but that was dominant at the time that Bacon was just bursting on the scene in 1945. Graham Sutherland was the only painter who had a retrospective in Paris before English painters had a retrospective in Paris. So, that was very important, we thought, and just one example of how we tried to fill in the full picture of what was going on in place Bacon.

MS: Well, of course you can do different kinds of biographies but the kind that seems particularly interesting to us is one in which you have different focal lens, and you activate different fields to get a fuller picture. So, that one of those fields would be what were critics saying about Bacon, what were they arguing about in the time. Another would be what was society doing, how are homosexuals being treated? Who are his friends? Who are his new friends? You move around, you develop secondary characters, you try to portray a milieu, and then it kind of mysteriously comes together into a larger sensation of the figures in his environment, sort of like a 19th century novel.

RS: Let me go back. This book is much like those films that had a cast of multiple international stars, and those little cameo portraits that you give of them are also fascinating. I noted, for example, Lord Bernier’s with his horse and his easel. Things like that which one does know about if one haunts old bookshops but not much otherwise. And I think one of the benefits of this book is you sort of introduce those people to a general reader and make them want to know more. But was that a pleasure for you to do? Is that what you enjoyed in the process of writing this?

MS: Yes.

AS: Absolutely. And, you know, I teach Biography, and just last night we were studying Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde, and that is a wonderful go-back-to-again-and-again biography, because that’s the template that he used, so no figure was left unfleshed, no stone was left unturned. If you really want to create a comprehensive portrait of your character, you know, in situ, that’s what you need to do.

RS: Indeed. Can you tell me a little bit about how you view him in the larger sense? What did he give to modern art that it did not have before?

MS: Well, number one, I think he did that rare thing, he created a new kind of figure. I mean, once you see a Bacon you really can’t, whether you like it or not, you really can’t get it out of your eyes. It enters into your DNA, almost. It’s a new sensation of the head and of the body. And I think that’s a remarkable thing in and of itself, but also that kind of body: that kind of head, that kind of face slipping away, suggests something very important about the 20th century. I mean, the struggle to figure out where is the self? Where is identity? Where are you? What forces are hinging upon you? There’s this funny sensation in Bacon of both a turbo outside force pressing in, which is the abstract universe, or whatever you would call it, and then this internal force pushing out — and the flesh is just pushed between these forces. That’s a very 20th century feeling, I would submit.

RS: And how about his use of the triptych? Because it seems to me that one of the things that jumps out from the very beginning, and all the way through, is the introduction of a pictorial format which is multiple frames. There are frames within them often but multiple frames over which he tells a story or develops an idea, or sets-up a dialectic, and that you don’t look at a single painting and that was something that was a Greenbergian axiom. You don’t look at a single painting, you look at multiple paintings.

AS: That’s Francis Bacon in motion, right? A study in motion, and you can just go reading it, you know, right centre left, would be his goal, one would imagine, you know? He wanted that sort of sense of movement in the paint.

MS: Also, you can’t, you really can’t underestimate his desire to get past Christianity and back to classical culture. And the three images are of course a triptych, a religious image in Christianity, but they also suggest a Greek play, a classical play, and you see that he creates a very theatrical space usually in his triptychs, in which a ritual occurs of some kind, it can be something like human sacrifice, it can be despair, it can be a cathartic moment. Later on, it can be more theatrical and distant, more branded, more postmodern, but yes, that stop-start quality he loved. I mean, he loved Edward Muybridge, you know, that stop-start is essential to what he was trying to, that feeling, that 20th century feeling he was trying to attain.

RS: Let me just pick up on what Mark was saying about the classical and so on, and his antipathy to Christianity. Because the triptych is actually a Christian format, from the Isenheim Altarpiece and so on. But he was a reader of Nietzsche, and Nietzsche of course was the anti-Christian philosopher par excellence, so I think it’s interesting that these things are dynamically related in structural issues, not just in types of representation.

MS: Yes, that’s a paradox in his work, but, you know, in Christian iconography what he liked was the crucifixion, and he didn’t necessarily think of that in religious terms. He thought of that as a sacrifice, which of course it fundamentally is. But he was not so interested in the religious dynamics than he was in the idea of the human body being sacrificed before something implacable.

AS: I actually have a slightly different take on that. I do think he was extremely interested in playing against that sacrifice. One of my favourite quotes in our book is from the art dealer and critic Helen Lessore, and she wrote an essay once, I’m sure your familiar with it, and she talks about Bacon and religion and she says, ‘The very intensity of his disbelief was so overwhelming that it reached its own level of belief.’ So, that was her take on those great triptychs that he painted.

MS: And that’s another reason we used the word ‘Revelations’, because there is definitely a romantic, a religious aura, or a sort of sense of it somewhere in his work. I think it probably comes from the sacrifice but it’s also Christian, in a way. And he likes that idea of both sacrifice but also revelation, and sudden insight. And those are religiously tinged ideas.

RS: Well, many people who are declared atheists actually harbour a secret religiosity, which then comes to the surface in a variety of forms.

I think there’s an element in which formal choices that he made actually reflect philosophical and thematic choices, and I think also the question of his declared atheism, or his declared disinterest, in religion, that it’s natural that it bubbles up someplace else. Also, the crucifixion is a beautiful naked man who is in suffering. And the same is true in Saint Sebastian. Did Bacon ever come close to painting a Saint Sebastian?

MS: Not that I know of, that’s a good question. I think he would have liked those arrows. But I don’t think so. I think he fixed on the crucifixion, and the things around the crucifixion. We’re not completely sure, but probably in the late ‘40s he really wanted to paint a proper crucifixion. He was trying to figure that out, but he never quite got there, it was always the crowd around the crucifixion that finally interested him.

AS: But we know it was an obsession of his very early on, because in 1934 he had a private show, he mounted his own show at the Transition Gallery. None of those paintings survived, but one of them was called Wound for a Crucifixion. And people who did go into that show would have been early precursors of the ‘45 reaction to Three Studies, you know, people went reeling out of the gallery. The same thing happened in ‘34, and they were all various takes upon Bacon’s paintings about religion. And, unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to those paintings, he destroyed them all because the reception to the show was so bad.

MS: Interestingly de Kooning was also quite interested in the crucifixion. He did those drawings of crucified figures, and he also said it had nothing to do with religion per se, he just liked the idea of the flesh, suffering.

RS: And of course, Picasso painted a crucifixion based on the Isenheim Altarpiece, and so did Graham Sutherland. He painted some, at least one, I think.

MS / AS : That’s right, that’s exactly right.

RS: How do you think Bacon stands in relation to things that were happening around him a- after he made his first big statements? And I’m thinking partly of Pop Art and the queerness of Pop Art in Britain, Patrick Procktor and David Hockney were overtly homosexual artists in ways that Bacon was also, but in them it’s a kind of playful fête, a lively situation and not a lugubrious and painful one. So, there’s that one up contrast there. The other thing is the relation he has to modern technology. You mentioned his use of the Picture Post as a source, you mention his files of photographs and so on. And there’s of course Walter Sickert, who started using photographs as the basis of paintings. So, he was in a way a kind of premature post-modernist, not just a late modernist.

MS: Yes, I think that’s true, he’s both a late modernist and a postmodernist. In different parts of his work you can find strong elements of each, not least in his theatricality. I mean, theatre can be a riveting emotional experience, or it can be a bland, distant experience. But you know in terms of his homosexuality, he is obviously of an earlier generation than Hockney and Procktor, and to survive a lot of those homosexuals, especially those who were out, they had to declare their allegiance to the margins. And it was a serious matter, they fought in a way that was quite… you know, they argued, they bloodied, they used language, they expressed themselves in a way that could really take off the top of your head. It was not a playful matter to be a homosexual in 1940. It was not playful even in 1953, when there was a crackdown. So, the environment that Procktor and Hockney grew up in, in the 1960s, the open-spirited thing, Bacon is really from before that. He’s from the Colony Club, and it’s a ‘take no prisoner’ kind of experience.

RS: How did he respond to the arrival of the Pop artists of that period?


AS: Well, he really liked Richard Hamilton, I don’t think he had much problem with it, but you know he was legendary for going to any show and being dismissive about it. We know he didn’t like Larry Rivers. I mean, there are certain painters that he simply would denigrate left and right: Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers. But Richard Hamilton is a very interesting outlier, because they were friends.

MS: But, no, he did not like Pop Art very much, he thought it was a way to avoid the situation. For him, the situation was: we die, we’re in pain, we can have some fun along the way. And if you’re just doing Pop Art, well, yeah, it’s okay, but it’s not very serious, to him.

AS: In the book we quote Bacon once at La Popote, which was a very gay, high gay, high queeny restaurant, and he’s talking about Larry Rivers and he said ‘Oh, Larry Rivers isn’t a deepened girl like me, she’s minnying along the sidewalks of life’, which gives you some idea of Francis Bacon wound up talking about other artists he did not like.

MS: Well, he also, you know, he didn’t like the word ‘gay’. He didn’t like this idea of homosexuals joining the mainstream. One of the interesting things in the book is that actually he had a lot more ordinary impulses than we would have thought. He liked long term relationships, he didn’t give people up. He kept friends mostly for a very long time. He was a loyal kind of person, in some respects. But he had no desire ever to join the mainstream in some kind of fundamental way, and it was important to him that he’d not.

AS: I just want to throw something out there, which is, it’s interesting to us that some people have disliked the book, or had a problem with it, because it doesn’t give Francis Bacon his two-dimensional form, in the way he’s been presented in the memoirs and biographies that have come before. We were absolutely trying to do the opposite of that iteration of Bacon. He was so much more than ‘the prince of darkness of Soho’. But it is very interesting that people get locked in on this singular view of Bacon, and that they can’t move away from it.

MS: Yes, it’s much more interesting to hold those two ideas in your mind at once, that he had this persona, and there was a truth to that persona. It was an invention, but it was a true kind of invention, there was truth to it. But then you get these other aspects. And if you’re forced to think about all of that at once, I think you have a much more rich view of not only Bacon but humanity in general. It like that distinction that E. M. Forster liked to make between flat characters and round characters. Bacon has often been presented as a flat character, and we were trying to make him round.

RS: Well, that also accords with what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about the ability to entertain two antithetical ideas at the same time. And so… let me shift the ground a bit in terms of different receptions in different places. Bacon was very popular in France as of the 1970s, I would say. And he was in France of course in the 30’s, but he sort of made a beach head in France in the ‘60s and ‘70s and he ended up being written about by Derrida, I believe, and Deleuze, and he was written also by Michel Leiris. He was a very popular subject for French writers. His reputation in this country has actually wobbled for some number of decades, and never really recovered, I think, from his initial huge fame. And I look at that also because I used to work at the Museum of Modern Art. The Modern showed him regularly, but it showed him in one very famous, and from a critical point of view disastrous show, ‘The New Images of Man’, which associated him with a kind of humanism that many people now find terribly dated. And I wonder whether or not you think that exhibition, or the tendency to associate him with a kind of existential suffering, of a rhetorical variety did him damage? And I wonder why that show didn’t really figure in your book very largely? Is it because you don’t think it was a good show, or because you don’t think that it had a good effect? Or maybe it was simply not as important as the people who organised it thought it was?

MS: Well, maybe we should have discussed that show more. The book is very long as it is [laughs] but the question is a complicated one, Rob. I think there’s, the whole Grand Guignol aspect of Bacon, that sensible lurid melodrama, was really anathema in this country, in America, both in 1950s, when Greenberg and Rosenberg held sway — also Hess — they didn’t like that at all. They were interested in the Abstract Expressionists. But then in the cooler tones, the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the temperatures of aesthetics cooled down, I think that again the intensity that you see in Bacon, just didn’t suit the taste of the time, it just couldn’t reach certain quarters in this country. And you’re right, the way they usually put down figurative art in general was that he had this kind of corny humanism, you know, that it was so full of despair, and ‘we must go on, we can’t go on’, all that kind of stuff. It had become a cliché at that point. Wasn’t always a cliché, was not such a cliché in 1948, but by 1960, late ‘50s, the ‘60s, it seemed a kind of threadbare, I would say. But it was generally one by Bacon and his, I wouldn’t say that he’s a cuddly cosy humanistic kind of person in his instincts [laughs].

AS: But you know, to take that a little bit further, the show that we write about a lot, or at least a lot more, is the 1975 show at the Metropolitan Museum. To me the very interesting thing about that is Hess and Rosenberg, and the whole cadre of critics, gave it the back of their head.

MS: Yes, but that wouldn’t please necessarily critics, they would think that’s just the mob.

AS: No, but I’m trying to distinguish between the highbrows, the critics, and the public, so you know to, that is a really interesting thing isn’t it. I mean, the American public was very welcoming of this kind of vision of the big George Dyer death triptych, that emerged out of Bacon’s studio after George Dyer died. So, it’s not just a matter of critics, I think, it’s also a matter of American public.

RS: Well, we’re all critics so we have to be a little bit humble when we say that [laughs], in a critical way. On the other hand, I think you’re quite right, I think the popular taste or the general taste is never where people who spend all day every day thinking about these things thinks it is. So, you know, I think that, but also I’m struck by the fact that Susan Sontag was an early, articulator of what we would now call queer sensibility. And she must’ve known this as a fact about Bacon, but she also would’ve known his connection to the Parisian literary world and so on, and so forth. Does she mention his sexuality in her review? I don’t know.

MS: I don’t think she does, I mean, the review I’m referring to was in 1975. I don’t think she does, that was still something that was not very much talked about in the 1970s, even by people like Susan Sontag when they were writing for popular audiences, as she was in this case. But, you know, the way she wrote about him, she thought he was better than American and French painters. She said that he was lucky that he was born in England, in a way, because he wasn’t imprisoned by the expectations that the French art world and the American art world had at that time. He was able to be in this second-rate literary culture, literary-painting culture, and therefore he was not imprisoned by the rules and the regulations, and he could therefore create a more interesting relationship to the Old Masters. He could unabashedly treat the figure without shame or fear of critical disdain. He could do all kinds of things that important American painters couldn’t do.

RS: There was one American painter who was in London who did it and that was Ronald Kitaj.

MS: Right.

RS: Basically, Kitaj invented something he called ‘The School of London’, as in the counter term to The School of Paris. And it was all of those artists of the figure and he did a show sometime in the 70’s which couldn’t have been farther from the time, so there’s that. But he was an American in London doing what you were not supposed to do in America. He was being literary, he was being a draughtsman, he was being a figurative and he was being louche, also. So, I just wonder how you see all that together and how you see, again, the American reception has been sometimes passionate but often tepid. And for Bacon I think it’s a strange phenomenon since he’s almost always hot or very very cold. And I wonder if you think this will change now that people know more about him?

AS: Well, the first part, I’ll let Mark enter the change, but you know the attitude towards him and France as we know, was always one of deep respect. And you mention Leiris, and of course they wrote back and forth letters, and he wrote the catalogue essay several times for Bacon’s shows. So, there was that total respect in Paris. Kitaj, on the other side of the channel, you know, all the painters knew he made up that whole ‘School of London’ thing, just like the photograph of them, the famous photograph of them at Wheeler’s was made up. They didn’t really see themselves as a group of painters with the same goals, they were not like the Americans, de Kooning and all of that bunch.

RS: Well, they didn’t have the same goals either by the way.

MS: Well, no, they didn’t. You know, Kitaj loved Bacon because he was such an autodidact himself, such a strange, cranky, eccentric character. So self-invented, Kitaj, that he was naturally drawn to Bacon who had done much the same sort of self-invention. You know, I think one of the things that’s very important about Bacon in our culture is that he seems always a little too much, just a little too much. He’s always breaking apart good taste, which can become a kind of velvet, velvety prison. He’s too much and that is an experience that certain art does, you know it goes too far. If you look at a Rococo church in Mexico, or something like that, it’s just bananas, but it does displace you, it takes you to some kind of other spot. And Bacon is too-muchness. It’s very interesting, very appealing. I think it’s partly why people who were interested in good taste ad following the rules withdraw from him a little bit, because he’s too much. But that too much creates a new kind of space for experience, I think.

AS: I have to admit, my one too much moment was when Mark and I went to see the retrospective at the Tate, the most recent retrospective there, and there was the ‘62 crucifixion that we showed earlier, and I could hardly look at it. And Chris Stephens, one of the curators, said, ‘Eell, that’s everybody’s experience’. They would walk into the gallery and they would have to leave. So, you know, there is too much Bacon, can be too much of a good thing too.

RS: Well, I think it’s also part of a whole. I’ve written extensively about this about other artists, and one could easily do this about Bacon – the grotesque as a category of art, as a state of mind, as philosophical position is where Bacon lands over and over. Because the grotesque is defined by the clash of opposites that are so deeply embedded in each other that you can’t disentangle them, and you can’t make a decision this way or that. And Bacon is full of that kind of stuff. And his ambivalence about grand painting, and his practice of grand painting, his attraction to physical beauty and his finding painterly beauty in ugly things, and so on, all of this is part of the same set of variables. And interestingly enough it was Gombrich, Ernst Gombrich, and Ernst Kris, who were in Britain at that time and were associated with, I think, the Warburg Institute, who really explored this subject. So, I have no idea whether Bacon was aware of this but he might well have been, and I think in Britain you will find many, many examples of the grotesque as a codified art form. British caricature is quintessentially that. And, well, let me just end on at least one observation. My basic view is that artists are remembered not for the things they did that go down in history books — although that’s fine, and things do go down in history books — but for images that are so memorable that you cannot forget them. And I think artists are graded by the number of those images that they make, at least they are in terms of historical aftereffects. And I would say that Bacon unquestionably has made a mark that is indelible and is always recognisably Bacon. And I’ll give you an example of it. The other night I was walking down the street here in Brooklyn, and it was raining, and somebody approached me underneath an umbrella and as I was looking at him, I saw those teeth in the shadow and exactly that. That is something that only Bacon ever made and every time you see it, like the scream in Potemkin or any number of things — Alfred Hitchcock’s films, which are also grotesque. Those are things you remember… And I think he was the author of many such things.

MS: I think so too, and some of them are grotesque in a way you don’t expect. In other words, not through heightened feeling, or bloodshed, or anything like that — but there’s a triptych, a George Dyer death triptych, in which you see Dyer dying in the centre panel, and there’s this cartoon shadow, like this strange bat coming out. And your first reaction is, ‘I can’t forget that image because… oh, that’s awful, that’s like Disney. What is that? That’s stupid’. But because I’d never seen something like that before, put in that context, and because maybe death is sort of stupid too, I can’t get it out of my head. And so, there’s images like that, but I think we all had that — Annalyn does too — in his work that you might not want to have them inside you, but you can’t get rid of them.

AS: Well, actually, his self-portraits are that way too, you know if you look at them from the 1960s till he died in 1992. The self-portraits in and of themselves are a whole sort of genre, a reawakening of painting portraits in the 20thcentury. Who else was really painting portraits like that? I think that goes back to what David Sylvester said, you know, the Bacon mouldering at the end of the long centuries worth of portraits in a great mansion. There’s that aspect of him. And the deeper you go into Bacon, the more I think that you see the variety; the late still-life’s, you know, that beautiful Blood on Pavement that he painted in the ‘80s, there’s so much more to Bacon that what people think when they say, ‘Oh, Francis Bacon, I detest his art’.

RS: Well, I think the answer to that questions if there is one is that Bacon, for all he hated abstract art, he was acutely cognisant of it and wanted, in some ways, to find a way to best the people who were doing that at their own game. So, I see that particular picture as a rebuke, or retorque, or retort, whatever you want, to a number of abstract zone painters of that period. And I think also the way in which he uses sleek art deco furniture elements like those that he had in his shop and put them against the flesh. The cold, highly polished metal thing next to a soggy, you know, whatever it is, flaccid thing. Those are those are grotesque moves, and they are also the way in which, just as he was probably not a total atheist, he was also not a total anti-modernist either. He had an attraction to tropes that were essentially modernist.

MS: Well, that’s right. If you look at colour field painting, for example. Colour field painting thought it was doing a sort of thing. Bacon clearly saw colour field painting, I think. And he used those backgrounds in his paintings but to a completely different end. He can make that colour field appearance that look quite frightening. I mean, it becomes this abstract terror… coming from where? It’s not just a study in colour, but it has a relationship to colour field painting.

AS: You know, earlier Rob, too, to your point about how he would be influenced by things and sort of take a go at them, there was the late ‘50s Van Gogh paintings, and that was the time when he’d actually seen the big American show that came through the CIA-sponsored, triumphant tour through Europe of American abstract painting. And, at that point, he went to see that show and there you have that little moment in time that Hugh Davies has written about when suddenly Bacon is going from the sort of dark, and I think Hugh Davies said ‘He turned on the light in his paintings’. For one brief moment, he was a garish kind of gestural brushstroke painter, before he left that behind. But to your point he was looking to see opportunities wherever he could find them to make his own mark also in a related area.

RS: Yes, which is just what smart painters do. No smart painter wants to be cut off and shut up in their own dark alley.

MS: I mean, de Kooning one time said he copied from everybody, you know. I mean, anything that interests you, you just take it in. And Bacon was like that too. He would, he would say he didn’t care. You know, he called Pollock ‘the old lace maker’, right? But I think he was interested in Pollock a little bit.

RS: I don’t think that you could not be interested in Pollock, but you might not want to acknowledge it. And I think Pollock was a bit oversold in Europe, and so on. But he was also coming out of an entirely different tradition. And I don’t think Bacon had any part of that.

Now that you’ve finished this book, there’s a French expression ‘L’esprit de l’escalier’, which is the thing you think of on the stairs as you’re leaving a place. What are the thoughts you have that are the devils on the stairs as you exit this book? And are any of them the threads that might lead you to the next book?

AS: That is a profound question [laughs]. Mark, do you want to take a stab first?


MS: Well, the sad thing is that even though it’s a very long book, it could have been twice as long, so there’s many things that we didn’t address as fully as I might have liked. And one of them is the strange postmodern aspect of Bacon. I find that remarkable and mysterious that he could emerge in the ‘50s as the sort of, looking for the authentic, you know, the inner nerve, but then could also become, theatrically, his persona, not unlike Warhol in certain ways — who has an image that moves through the culture in a highly theatrical way. I think we could have made more of that, perhaps, and he would have therefore been seen to encapsulate more of the century. But we do allude to it, we talk about it, but I think that’s something, a vein, that remains to be explored in greater depth.

AS: And for my part Rob, thank you for asking that question, and I think I’m pining for a woman [laughs]. I mean, the women got so left out of his life and there was so much richness there. So, I’m sort of beginning to ponder, ‘uhm, the women creatives of the world…?’

RS: Well, I will tell you one thing, I wrote not a biography, but a very, very long book about Louise Bourgeois, and Bacon is the only artist she would speak well of. She was as much like him in not wanting to talk about the competition, but in the case of Bacon she always expressed her enthusiasm for him. So, I wouldn’t go and do the Bourgeois thing, but there are other women – you can, it’s a free country, but I would advise against it, for a host of reasons – but I think there are other women of that generation and since that deserve this kind of treatment.

We’re going to start drinking now. We’re going to raise a toast to Francis

MS / AS: Absolutely. You know Bacon’s famous toast, right? Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends [laughs].

RS: That’s a charming sentiment [laughs].

Filmed on the occasion of
Francis Bacon: Revelations
By Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
Published by HarperCollins in the U.K. in January 2021 
and by Knopf in the U.S. in March 2021


Produced in collaboration with

The Estate of Francis Bacon


With thanks to

Brian Clarke

Tatiana Dubin

Shelley Wanger


Artwork credits

Francis Bacon, around the age of four, with his mother Winifred Bacon

Courtesy of The Estate of Francis Bacon


Kerry and Granny Supple

Courtesy of The Estate of Francis Bacon


Nanny Lightfoot

Courtesy of The Estate of Francis Bacon


Young Francis Bacon, in his early twenties

Photograph by Francis Julian Gutmann, London. Courtesy MB Art Collection


An outtake from ‘The Studio’ photo shoot of Francis Bacon’s Queensbury Mews show (1930) that Bacon sent to his mother, with detailed descriptions of his furniture and rugs

Courtesy of Ianthe Knott


Crucifixion, 1933

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 33-01. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Private collection


Portrait of Eric Hall by Roy de Maistre, c.1936

© Caroline de Mestre Walker and Belinda Price; collection © The Estate of Francis Bacon


The Lodge at Bedales School

Courtesy of the Bedales Archive


Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944

Artwork © The Estate of Francis Bacon, 44-01. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Presented by Eric Hall 1953. Tate Britain, London. Photo © Tate Images.


Head I, 1948

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 48-01. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Muriel Belcher, portrait of Muriel Belcher, Colony Room proprietor and model for Francis Bacon, smoking with a cigarette holder, Soho, London mid 1950’s

© John Deakin / John Deakin Archive / Bridgeman Images


Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 53-02. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Des Moines Art Center.


Peter Lacy photograph in war gear

Collection and image © Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (Reg. No. RM98F12: 17:4). © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights reserved.


Two Figures, 1953

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 53-24. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Private collection.


Joseph Dean and Francis Bacon outside Dean’s Bar, Tangier, c. 1957

Photo by Fred G. Mossman. © Marlborough Fine Art Ltd


Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 62-04. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


Photograph of Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, 1992

© Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.


Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967

The Estate of Francis Bacon, 67-14. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Berlin


George Dyer and Francis Bacon in Soho, 1966

© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Photo: John Deakin. The Estate of Francis Bacon Collection


Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 66-15. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Fondation Beyeler, Beyeler Collection, Riehen/Basel.


Bacon at the dinner following his Grand Palais opening in 1971, just after George Dyer’s death

© André Morain, Paris


Triptych August 1972, 1972 

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 72-07. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Tate Gallery, London.


Francis Bacon and John Edwards at Bacon’s Reece Mews studio, London, 1980

Photo Edward Quinn, ©


Self-Portrait, 1972

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 72-12. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Private collection.


Study for Self-Portrait, 1979

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 79-11. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Private collection, New York.


Last Martini in Madrid: Bacon at Bar Cock in the days before he died

Courtesy of José Astiarraga, Bar Cock, Madrid


Study of a Bull, 1991

© The Estate of Francis Bacon, 91-04. All rights reserved. DACS 2021. Private Collection, London.


Francis Bacon: Revelations’, Stevens and Swan official website

Francis Bacon’, official website

‘Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944’, Tate

Recently Watched

Watch Next Video

Isabel Rawsthorne Rediscovered: The Poetry in Things

Isabel Rawsthorne Rediscovered: The Poetry in Things 17:36 mins
play_arrow PLAY NOW

Curator Carol Jacobi shines a light on the career of artist Isabel Rawsthorne (1912 – 1992), “a missing link of 20th century art”.

Surrealism: Imagining A New World

Surrealism: Imagining A New World 8:17 mins
play_arrow PLAY NOW

Why did Surrealism appeal to artists across the world?

Ben Street: How to Enjoy Art

Ben Street: How to Enjoy Art 15:32 mins
play_arrow PLAY NOW

Is specialist knowledge needed to enjoy and understand art?