In June 1963, 21-year-old Michael Peppiatt made his way to the French House pub in London's Soho with an audacious plan in mind. There he hoped to find the 53-year-old artist Francis Bacon and request an interview for his student magazine. He got more than he bargained for. Bacon clearly felt an instant attraction to the handsome, curly-haired boy and invited him out to a drunken lunch with a bunch of his friends, including the photographer John Deakin and painter Lucian Freud.
Peppiatt returned to Cambridge with a hangover and Bacon's phone number. For the next 29 years he remained a regular companion, enjoying countless nights out with the artist, before returning home to note down as much of their conversation as he could remember. This enjoyable and sometimes illuminating memoir is a record of their friendship.
As he is at pains to point out, Peppiatt is heterosexual. But such were the epicurean pleasures he enjoyed at the homosexual Bacon's expense, and so great his desire to make his name by writing about art, that he soon grew adept at "brushing off the hand that strayed above the knee" in order to get his stories.
Most expensive artworks sold at auction
Most expensive artworks sold at auction
1/16 'Women of Algiers' by Pablo Picasso - $179m
'Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')' by Picasso broke the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it sold for $179m at Christie's in New York in May 2015.
© 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso
2/16 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' by Francis Bacon - $142m
Francis Bacon's 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' was the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction before Picasso beat it, fetching a record-breaking price of $142 million in November 2013.
3/16 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch - $119.9m
Edvard Munch’s 'The Scream' fetched the former record price of $119.9 million in May 2012, when it was sold as part of a modern, contemporary and impressionist art sale by Sotheby’s, New York.
4/16 'Walking Man I' by Alberto Giacometti - $104.3m
Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti’s 'Walking Man I' sold for $104.3 million at Sotheby’s in February 2010, almost four times its asking price.
5/16 'Nude, Green Leaves' by Pablo Picasso - $106.5m
Pablo Picasso’s 'Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust' fetched $106.5 at Christie’s in May 2010. The painting of Picasso’s lover Marie-Therese Walter was created in a single day in 1932.
6/16 'Boy With A Pipe' by Pablo Picasso - $104.1m
'Boy With A Pipe' by Pablo Picasso fetched $104.1 million in New York in 2004 to become the first $100 million painting. The painting depicts a Rose Period portrait of a young child called 'Little Louis' who would hang around his studio in Paris.
7/16 'Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II' by Gustav Klimt - $87.9
'Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II' by Gustav Klimt (painter of 'The Kiss') sold for $87.9 million at Christie’s auction house in November 2006. Adele was the only model whom Klimt painted twice.
8/16 'Triptych' by Francis Bacon - $85.9
Russian billionaire and one-time richest man in the world Roman Abramovich took home Bacon’s 1976 'Triptych' for $85.9 million at the peak of the market in May 2008.
9/16 'Black Fire I' by Barnett Newman - $84.2m
'Black Fire I' by Barnett Newman was sold for $84.2 in May 2014
10/16 'Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet' by Vincent Van Gogh - $82.5m
'Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet' by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh sold for $82.5 million in 1990. There are two versions of the portrait, both painted in June 1890 at Auvers.
11/16 'Triple Elvis' [Ferus Type] by Andy Warhol - $81.9m
'Triple Elvis' [Ferus Type] by Andy Warhol was sold for $81.9 in November 2014
12/16 'Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards' by Francis Bacon - $80.8m
'Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards' by Francis Bacon was sold for $80.8 in May 2014
13/16 'Orange, Red, Yellow' by Mark Rothko - $72.8
Mark Rothko’s 1961 painting 'Orange, Red, Yellow' went for $86.9 million at Christie’s in May last year, smashing a previous Rothko record of $72.8 million.
14/16 'Untitled' (1952) by Mark Rothko - $66.2m
'Untitled' (1952) by Mark Rothko sold for $66.2m in May 2014
15/16 'Spring (Le Printemps)' by Edouard Manet - $65.1m
'Spring (Le Printemps)' by Edouard Manet sold for $65.1m in November 2014
16/16 'Balloon Dog' by Jeff Koons - $58.4m
Jeff Koons' 'Balloon Dog' sold for a record $58.4m, becoming the most expensive sculpture ever
Peppiatt writes in the present tense and brings alive the colourful nights at the Colony Room, where Bacon would hold court and feminine pronouns were de rigueur for all the male clientele. "The more she drinks, the more rubbish she talks," quips Bacon of his Colony companion Denis Wirth-Miller. Meanwhile the landlady, Muriel Belcher, describes Lord Snowdon, who visits for a photo shoot, as "a nice little lady".
Peppiatt quickly finds himself part of Bacon's inner circle, with introductions to artists like Hockney, Auerbach and Kitaj, as well as to George Orwell's widow, Sonia, with whom he has a drunken sexual encounter. "I've f**ked up my life, you know. Just f**ked it up," she tells him. "We'd better have a drink."
Much of this memoir is filled with eye-opening anecdotes about Bacon's insatiable appetites for food, wine (at least six bottles a night) and sex, but there are also revealing insights into his views on life and art. He speaks in Wildean aphorisms: "Life's like that. We're all on our way to becoming dead meat," is a typical example. The nihilism that's so apparent in his paintings of screaming popes and mangled bodies is there in his daily speech, too.
When Peppiatt engages Bacon about the artists and work he likes and dislikes, the results are often enlightening. He hates all abstract art, with its "free fancy about nothing"; dislikes Hockney's paintings, "pretty, but when you look at them there's nothing really there"; and, perhaps surprisingly, thinks Degas's pastels "among the greatest things ever made".
Meanwhile, Bacon is often cutting about other famous people he has met. "She was a monster herself, Virginia Woolf," he tells Peppiatt, recalling a meeting with the writer. "She shouted all the way through the lunch."
For anybody who has read Daniel Farson's The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, or Peppiatt's previous book, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, much of the background will be familiar. But there's still much new material to enjoy and Peppiatt, although occasionally insufferable when showing off his erudition, has an engaging style and an instinct for a good story.
Not long before Bacon's death, in 1992, aged 82, the pair were having dinner in the busy restaurant at Claridge's when Bacon announced "I still masturbate you know, even at my age," and reduced the room to silence.
Some readers might find such details distasteful, preferring to admire the paintings without the pungent biography. But Bacon declared all his work to be autobiographical and gave his blessing to Peppiatt by saying: "Only the whole story is worth telling." And with another major biography of the artist on the way, his is a story that looks set to run and run.Reuse content