Francis Bacon in Your Blood
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In June of 1963, when Michael Peppiatt first met Francis Bacon, the former was a college boy at Cambridge, the latter already a famous painter, more than thirty years his senior. And yet, Peppiatt was welcomed into the volatile artist’s world; Bacon, considered by many to be "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," proved himself a devoted friend and father figure, even amidst the drinking and gambling.
Though Peppiatt would later write perhaps the definitive biography of Bacon, his sharply drawn memoir has a different vigor, revealing the artist at his most intimate and indiscreet, and his London and Paris milieus in all their seediness and splendor. Bacon is felt with immediacy, as Peppiatt draws from contemporary diaries and records of their time together, giving us the story of a friendship, and a new perspective on an artist of enduring fascination.
they dismissed a couple of his very earliest paintings as ‘a piece of a cheese on a stick’ and ‘a pair of dentures on a tripod’ or some such facile nonsense. But as he takes in how much I’ve changed, and how desperate I probably sound as well as look, his tone alters and he suggests we meet for dinner tomorrow at the Ritz. Plush hotels seem almost designed to make you feel a bit shabby but I find I don’t much care as I hand my crumpled mac in at the Ritz’s cloakroom. I’m also pleased, once we’re
clearly undaunted. ‘I’m absolutely ravenous,’ he says. ‘Why don’t we go to Annabel’s and have some bacon and eggs?’ The chauffeur whisks us down the street into Berkeley Square. ‘It’s there,’ says Francis, chuckling. ‘There where all those things with cockades in their hats are standing.’ The car stops at Annabel’s and the footmen hold the door while we clamber out. There’s more champagne, and when the bacon and eggs appear Francis orders a very fine Château Latour. I find I’m hungry too,
know anyone. And the French, at least the Parisians, don’t give you the time of day if you can’t express yourself absolutely perfectly.’ ‘I’ve always liked that about the French,’ says Francis. ‘They’re much clearer about things than the English. I think they expect quality in everything, and they’re very aware of exactly how they look and how they present themselves.’ Oddly, this remark reminds me that my father has much the same admiration as Francis for all things French. I wonder if it’s
belief. It’s like Jeyes Fluid. You can imagine. They shoot it down lavatories and things. And it’s mighty strong, I can tell you. To make things worse, I happened to knock the filthy stuff back in one go. And then of course I just did not know what had hit me. I went out like a light, straight off my stool on to the floor. And the very next thing I knew, I was lying in bed in hospital. ‘The doctor, who was quite delightful, told me that had my stomach not been so thoroughly lined with alcohol I
at all hungry.’ Smarting and confused, I make for the door. The next morning, coming round in David’s ballroom-cum-bedroom, I ponder Francis’s sudden savagery. He can be the most tolerant person in the world, accepting all kinds of weaknesses and oddities (except religious belief) in other people, but on questions of taste he’s bigoted and unyielding. I’m no particular fan of Malcolm Lowry’s, so I could have let it go. I was probably showing off to the smaller woman. Even so, his strictures are