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Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma Hardcover – June, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This frank portrait of Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon (1909-92) contains enough juicy details about his lurid sex life and hard partying to satisfy even the most avid consumers of art-world gossip. But art critic Michael Peppiatt, who knew Bacon personally, also provides insightful analyses of his paintings and the nerve their anguished subject matter and technique struck in the uneasy years following World War II. In addition, Peppiatt illuminates the autobiographical roots of powerful works such as Pope I, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, and In Memory of George Dyer.

From Library Journal

These two books enrich the already substantial Bacon bibliography with different but equally successful approaches. While Peppiatt's biography fleshes out, with lucidity and scholarship, biographical and contextual details heretofore unexplored, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits is a lavishly produced treat with a sharp focus, carefully chosen reproductions, and inspired writing. Peppiatt (editor of Art International) brings both a critical and a personal perspective to his subject, as he was a close friend of the artist. Bacon's haunting images almost beg for psychological exploration; likewise, one is tempted to search for elements of the artist's hidden, exceptional life (and lifestyle) in his work. The new information Peppiatt provides about Bacon's early years enlarges the already complex portrait of the artist, and the interplay of persona and paintings adds up to a compelling and readable study. Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits is composed of Bacon's representations of people?ranging from Lucian Freud to Mick Jagger?with many details and photographs that unveil the remarkable likenesses retained in studies that on the surface are gross distortions. Kundera's essay explores links with Picasso and Beckett and is wonderfully perceptive, while Belgian art historian Borel's prose is provocative?albeit a bit ponderous, possibly in part because of the translation. Both titles are highly recommended for 20th-century art collections, although the latter is more of a luxury.?Heidi Martin Winston,
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st American ed edition (June 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374104948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374104948
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Francis Bacon : Anatomy of an Enigma" is an illuminating insight into the odd life of an artist who took great pains to prevent undue public prying while alive. Bacon felt that unnecessary publicity on his own peculiar choice of lifestyle would strip his paintings of the mystique they needed to work so effectively on the most visceral levels of the viewer's nervous system.
Michael Peppiatt takes us beyond the racks of carcasses and the pained, unsettled figures in claustrophobic rooms to glimpse a painter who was disarmingly immersed in all the pleasures that life can bestow. From his financial generosity and love of fine wines and good fellowship, to the celebrated sexual experimentation and excess of his youth, Peppiatt's portrait of the artist is at once astonishing and humorous in its revelations and salacious gossip. We learn the truth behind Bacon's ill fated relationship with the gigolo-spiv George Dyer, who features so prominently in the artists 60's portraits. We read about Bacon's unlikely association with Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the gangster celebrities of swinging Sixties London, as well as a whole host of other unsavoury characters, the flotsam of a twilight `interzone' where Bacon lurked and prowled as if to reinforce his determinedly cruel, sadistic view of the world.
Other prominent Baconian characters are also sketched with humour and compassion, including Muriel Belcher, acid-tongued proprietor of the Colony Room Club, Isabella Rawsthorne, Henrietta Moraes, George Deakin and Lucien Freud. Particularly hilarious is Henrietta Moraes' account of the origin of her famous nude photographs, many of which formed the basis for Bacon's most memorable female nudes.
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Format: Paperback
Great book.... I had never seen a painting of Francis Bacon and had no idea who he was. That being said, I found that the book held my attention from start to finish. Partly it was Bacon's outlandish lifestyle and the strange cast of characters who ran through his life which kept me entertained. Partly it was the analysis of art and Bacon's art in general that worked. The author excelled on both counts, mixing colorful anecdotes with insightful analysis of the work. The author is a master of words -- while reading it you may find yourself in SOHO hanging with the bohemians at a seedy bar, or perhaps getting reamed by a gangster in a public bathroom. In any event, this is a book well worth your time and money.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If one is searching for a "Life" of F. Bacon, this is the one to read. It has been revised and updated from the original hardcover edition, which was praised when it first appeared. Peppiatt knew Bacon during the later periods of the painter's life. There are many descriptions of first-hand experiences. Among critical studies focusing on Bacon, three writers who knew Bacon during his lifetime are: John Russell (Thames & Hudson), David Sylvester (interview collections) and Michel Leiris (Rizzoli, 1983 in English translation). All three are excellent.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As is the case with any artist, be they a writer, painter or musician, the key to understanding their work is all in the lives they have led. Francis Bacon, our subject at hand, was an extremely complex individual. Grew up with a father who rather distained his "pansy" son. Francis was afflicted with asthma from an early age, although he eventually grew to have an exceptionally hearty constitution. In fact, even though he was a heavy drinker and crawled the pubs deep into the night, he always woke up in the morning for a full day at the canvas. The author of this exceptionally well written biography knew Francis Bacon up close, and his revelations about Francis Bacon's relationships with Peter Lacy, George Dyer and John Edwards (beneficiary of Bacon's entire estate) are integral to understanding the work. That said, love was a rather sadomasochistic exercise for Francis Bacon, and his artwork continually evoked the tension of violence as well.

My favorite part of the book has to do with George Dyer. George was an exceptionally handsome and endearing figure, and according to myth (as set forth in film "Love Is the Devil") the relationship started when George, your typical bungling burglar, broke into Bacon's studio and got caught by the painter. More than lucky this was for Bacon, who liked his men rough around the edges, and any criminal connection on their part was an added bonus. Bacon grew up among the upper classes but preferred to mix with East End types, which here in the States would transfer as "blue collar lower middle class." George Dyer became a muse for Bacon, and his persona turns up in many of his greatest paintings.
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Format: Paperback
"There is no art, only artists..."

The well-worn dictum from E.H. Gombrich does seem apt in the case of Francis Bacon. Gombrich described artists as those who were "ready to forgo all easy affects, all superficial success for the toil and agony of sincere work."

Michael Peppiatt's "Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma" describes such a man. Francis Bacon was indeed an enigma, or a singular anomaly, and his separation from any school of artists helps mark him as a genius. Peppiatt uses an analytical approach to this biography, and as an art historian and confidant of Bacon's, he is well suited to the difficulty of the task. Because, as the title suggests, Bacon was not forthcoming about his life or thought until late in his life, preferring to keep keep himself shrouded in a protective and somewhat cultivated cloak of mystery.

Peppiatt is particularly good at revealing the historical sources for Bacon's inspirations as a self-taught artist "working within tradition". Bacon is shown to have been influenced not only by artists such as Velasquez, Picasso, and Michelangelo, but writers (Aeschylus, Nietzsche, Proust and T.S. Eliot), photographers (Muybridge)and filmmakers (Eisenstein). In his early adult life, Bacon established a philosophy of "finding oneself through drifting, using the forces of instinct and chance." This form of existentialism seem to prefigure the lifestyle of the Beat Generation writers, who Bacon did interact with in Tangiers, in the 1950's.

Though Bacon was a "wild man" who could drink nearly anyone under the table and kept a studio that looked as if a cyclone had hit it, he was also a highly disciplined, acutely intellectual person, who could talk on nearly any subject for hours.
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