Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma by Michael Peppiatt; Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait by Michael Peppiatt - review by Jane Rye

Jane Rye

The Wild Shores of Buggery

Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma


Constable 456pp £12.99 pbk

Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait


Yale University Press 272pp £18.99

Michael Peppiatt was Francis Bacon’s close friend and self-acknowledged Boswell for thirty years, from the moment in 1963 when he lay in wait for Bacon in the French House hoping to interview the painter for his undergraduate magazine, and, instead of being sent on his way with a crashing snub, was swept off to lunch at Wheeler’s. To sustain a friendship of thirty years with the seductive but dangerously unpredictable Bacon implies stamina (even close friends like Lucian Freud failed to stay the course), and not the least of the fascinations of Anatomy of an Enigma, his shrewd and fluent biography, is how on earth the author managed to make notes and recall conversations during and after the epic benders on which it was his privilege to accompany his hero. Four years after Bacon’s death in 1992, Peppiatt wrote what he legitimately describes as ‘the first comprehensive account of the artist’s life and of his work, and the vital interaction of the two’, which is reissued here with ‘confidential’ new material. Studies for a Portrait contains recent essays on Bacon’s friendship with the French writer Michel Leiris, and an expanded account of his dealer and devoted factotum Valerie Beston, together with a good deal of recycled material, both books being published to coincide with the splendid Bacon retrospective at the Tate (11 September–4January) that celebrates the centenary of the artist’s birth.

One of the themes of Peppiatt’s biography is the way in which, although so engagingly revealing of himself and his art in conversation, the artist sought to control his legacy as assiduously as any contemporary politician by the suppression of early paintings and biographical information, and the deliberate creation of

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