BOOK REVIEW / Unimpeachable sauces: 'The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon' - Daniel Farson: Century, 17.99 pounds

DANIEL FARSON met Francis Bacon in 1951 when he, Farson, was a young and pretty photographer and Bacon was just beginning to be known. Farson was, he admits, 'a celebrity snob' and a very willing recipient of Bacon's unquenchable generosity. Thereafter they whiled away many happy hours in Soho, and it is this slice of Bacon that Farson so brilliantly captures - the champagne lunches at Wheeler's (Bacon always paid), the drunken afternoons at Muriel's, the rent-boy pick-ups, the squabbles in the French pub, the outrageous scenes at parties, the drinking rituals and Bacon's quaint Edwardian benediction: 'Real pain for your sham friends, champagne for your real friends]'

Although their friendship deteriorated in later years - Bacon may have feared, with some justice, that Farson was exploiting him - they remained in touch and Farson writes movingly and gratefully of Bacon's many kindnesses, not least the ready cheques that helped him through lean times. In fact, he says, the greatest mistake he ever made was paying one of these cheques back and confiding to Bacon's lover, John Edwards, that he had done it from the advance on this book: Bacon didn't like to be paid back anyway, and he dreaded biographies - once or twice, in his cups, he gave Farson permission, but always withdrew it later.

Still, I think he has been well served by this book. It will certainly be the first of many biographies, and perhaps the slightest, but it preserves precisely the aspects of Bacon that will be hardest for scholarly researchers to capture. And although Farson rightly concentrates on what he knew at first hand - Bacon's Soho social life - he casts some interesting sidelights on the work, especially the revelation that in the late 1930s, when Bacon always claimed to be doing nothing, he was actually turning out dozens of drawings a day and painting, according to a lodger who shared his house, leafy Post- Impressionist landscapes - extraordinary if true. Farson knew many of Bacon's models - Muriel Belcher, of course, George Dyer, Isabel Rawsthorne and John Edwards (who became his heir) - and describes them in memorable vignettes. He traces the rise and fall of his relationships with fellow artists Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud, and his lasting admiration for Giacometti.

Farson is good on Bacon's sex life, too. Knowing many of Bacon's boyfriends, he recognised his taste in pick-ups - 'masculine in suits' - and understood the intrinsic dilemma of being a masochist shopping for sadists. He says, interestingly, that paying for sex was Bacon's way of alleviating his guilt about being homosexual. He records Bacon's reply when asked what he would like to have been if not an artist - 'a mother]' - and makes a conscientious stab at trying to illuminate his childhood: the loveless parents, the choleric and drunken father, the doting nanny, the asthma attacks, the sense of gloom and violence that pervaded their various Irish homes. Bacon told Farson that he had enjoyed frequent orgies with his father's grooms; he told another friend that his father encouraged the grooms to horsewhip him.

How reliable any of this might be remains to be seen, and there is obviously an awful lot of work for a serious biographer to do. Yet perhaps no one can convey better than Farson the fun of Bacon's company and the louche adventures of the Soho underworld. There are some truly joyous yarns in this book - Bacon appearing in full maquillage at Farson's village pub in Devon, a drunken visit to Barbara Hutton's house in Tangier, Princess Margaret insisting on singing at a party and Bacon booing, Bacon clearing a restaurant by saying loudly that he wanted to be fucked by Colonel Gaddafi - and wonderful quotes like Bacon's response when being sent endless deliveries of flowers for his eightieth birthday: 'I'm not the sort of person who has vases.' All in all, a book that is a joy in itself and a goldmine for biographers to come.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power