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Both were violent and belligerent battlers. At the slightest provocation, Freud would punch people who annoyed him. Bacon, who liked to be beaten up, once seduced a Cockney burglar who broke into his studio in the middle of the night. George Dyer remained his most important lover until he committed suicide in 1971. Though Bacon encouraged punch-ups all his life, he ironically gave Freud lessons in polite deportment. He asked his friend why he always got into fights, suggested he adopt a less abrasive manner, and urged him to “use your charm”.

The artists were inseparable in the 1950s and 1960s. They exhibited together at the Venice Biennale in 1954, which included Freud’s great portrait of Bacon, and travelled to Paris to see the Ingres centennial exhibition in 1967. Caroline Blackwood declared, in a misleading statement frequently quoted in books on Freud, “I had dinner with Bacon nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian” from 1953 to 1957. This was a considerable exaggeration, since she and Freud spent a year in Paris during their marriage, but suggests Bacon’s omnipresence in their lives. Michael Peppiatt reports that Freud and Bacon attended a notorious postwar London ball “at which Princess Margaret seized the microphone to sing Cole Porter songs to a captive audience until a fearlessly derisive Bacon booed so loudly she was forced to flee” from an audience both appalled and relieved.

On one occasion, writes Andrew Sinclair, during a dinner at Wheeler’s in Soho, Bacon “came into the restaurant declaring that he had heard from his doctor that his heart was in tatters and was hardly functioning. Rarely had such a diseased organ ever been examined. If he touched another drink, his useless heart would fail. He then ordered a bottle of champagne, and then another bottle and another . . . [Freud and Blackwood] took the diagnosis seriously and believed that Bacon would soon be dead, but he went on drinking prodigiously until his eighties.” After Freud’s marriage broke up, mainly destroyed by his ruinous gambling, Bacon worried that his severely depressed friend might commit suicide and urged his pals to keep a close watch on him.

Bacon and Freud also had important artistic similarities. Both worked in filthy and chaotic studios. At a time when abstract art was dominant, they opposed the prevailing fashion by creating figurative paintings that convey emotional intensity. Their portraits did not attempt to reproduce the actual appearance of the models, but revealed their essential characters. But their methods of work and styles of painting were very different. Distracted by models in his studio, Bacon preferred to paint alone and used photographs of his subjects. Freud observed, “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me.” Wyndham Lewis called Bacon “a Grand Guignol artist: the mouths in his heads are unpleasant places, evil passions make a glittering white mess of the lips”. Employing intuitive spontaneity and whirling brushwork, Bacon declared, “If anything ever does work in my case, it works from that moment when consciously I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Freud was impressed by Bacon’s reckless use of newspapers and rags, the wooden end of his brush and even his hands to smear the details and express the passion in his work. Astonished by and unable to compete with Bacon’s productivity, Freud recalled, “Sometimes I’d go round in the afternoon and he’d say, ‘I’ve done something really extraordinary today.’ And he’d done it all in that day. Amazing.” Comparing his early work to Bacon’s, Freud noted that his friend’s art “related immediately to how he felt about life. Mine on the other hand seemed very laboured.”

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October 11th, 2017
12:10 PM
Chrystosom: I'd say it's a significant comment on the state of art criticism, not necessarily the state of art.

John Borstlap
September 29th, 2017
8:09 PM
All this low-life and bickering about the prices of their works, what impression does it convey? Of talented, but rather degenerated men, and this shows in their works: it is all about the sordid aspects of life, without any transformative idea behind it. No wonder their works got so popular: like crime series on TV and pulp fiction, many people prefer this to something that would require some mental or emotional effort. In fact, it is populist art, as populist as concept art and abstraction - the style may be different but the sentiments are comparable: nihilism. Why the status? Because seeing such art being sold for so much money, relieves the sordid onlooker from guilt about his condition: if THAT is placed on the pedestal of 'expensive high art', then 'my sorry condition is OK'.

September 28th, 2017
11:09 AM
It is a significant comment on the state of art today that this article (at least in the version I saw on line) did not have a single illustration of any work by these, so-called, modern artists, though we had pictures of the painters themselves.

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