An idle thought: had Frank Auerbach slept around more, would he be a better-known painter?
Auerbach’s life has not been without incident – his refusal to give up a pre-existing lover in the 1950s led to a two-decade separation from his new wife – but it pales in comparison to the sexual carrying-ons of those more famous members of the School of London Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. To what extent are the two things, infamy and fame, linked?
Bacon’s romantic life, if such it was, has been the stuff of particular fascination, already picked over in four full-length biographies and half a dozen shorter ones, as well as in a film starring Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig. All these have dwelt, to a greater or lesser degree, on their subject’s taste for rough men and the lash. Charges of prurience have been dismissed with the suggestion that knowing more about Bacon’s sex life would lead to a greater understanding of his art.
This approach has had powerful backers, among them the critic John Berger. ‘It can happen’, Berger wrote of Bacon, ‘that the personal drama of an artist reflects … the crisis of an entire civilisation.’ Seen like this, Bacon was a sadomasochistic everyman; the floggings of which he was fond were