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Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 1999
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. Unsurprising for a Baconian character, the photographer - George Deakin - having persuaded Henrietta to pose with her legs a little further apart than necessary for the particular needs of art, was caught attempting to sell her nude images to sailors in 1950s Soho. This and other splendidly sleazy stories transform what would otherwise be a bleak or pretentious subject matter into a tour de force of black humour that Samuel Beckett would be proud of.
This biography is the document which avid Baconians have long been waiting for, the perfect companion to David Sylvestor's record of Bacon's conversation and poet Michel Leiris' various essays on the Bacon world view. It will be an essential text for all those who, like Bacon himself, struggle to achieve a totally honest and unvarnished opinion of human life in all its squalor, depravity and cruelty whilst still finding the motivation not to slit one's own throat. Only recommended for those, like `the old queen' himself, with a particularly warped view of existence.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2001
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2013
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.

Peppiatt does a good job offering a concise, but in-the-round portrait of a very complex man. Though in the opening chapters perhaps the book does keep it's subject at too much of a distance, this biography does get better as it proceeds, and in the end it does succeed in making the reader care about Bacon. He shows how much Bacon's methods of "accidence", and "wounding an image" have become part and parcel of the artistic repertoire, and how Bacon reflected the peculiar "assault on the nervous system" which was inflicted by the Twentieth Century.

Bacon's influence is pervasive, whether looking at the films of David Lynch, the hysterical drawings of Ralph Steadman, or listening to the tortured offerings of "Nine Inch Nails." One only wishes the old curmudgeon was still around to offer trenchant "Baconisms" on the state of the current scene.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified 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. In fact, one of Bacon's most accomplished triptychs is a portrayal of George Dyer's last living day while staying at a French hotel, immediately prior to a huge Bacon exhibition there. George died as the result of an overdose bought on by depression, and when the exhibition opened the next day Francis Bacon famously soldiered on as if nothing had happened. But in all reality, Mr. Bacon carried the heavy burden of guilt for George's death, which was essentially a suicide, and those feelings inevitably fueled the many George centric panels that followed.

Anyone interested in interpreting the not so transparent work of Francis Bacon needs to read this book. Have enjoyed it thoroughly and have read it multiple times. Actually, this book is so dense with insight, I would venture to say a second reading is all but required.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dear readers,

- Have read many biographies
- This rates as one of the best
- The ultimate Bacon biography
- It will shock you
- Peppiatt has captured Bacon to a tee
- Highly recommend
- It will allow you to enter the mind of probably the greatest artist of our generation
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
Read this revised edition of Peppiatt's biography of Francis Bacon while attending frequently the exhibition of the latter's work at New York City's Metropolitan Museum. It provides a necessary complement to the paintings which are, apparently, deliberately wrapped in a shroud of mystery. For the average reader without access to a representative sample of Bacon's work, I strongly urge purchase, at the least, of one of the inexpensive books with good reproductions. Peppiatt's book is sparsely illustrated in black and white nullifying the attempt to provide the reader with a sense of what created the impact of his work and what emerged from the experiences of the book's leading character.
The authors close relationship with the very much senior painter endows the book with the strength of such familiarity...and with its weakness. No question that he believes in the "greatness" of the painter nor that he accepts the impact that Bacon clearly had upon him as the common impact he had upon others. Nevertheless, forewarned by the author himself, the reader can make due allowances in reading so as to benefit from the intimacy out of which the portrait emerges while retaining the necessary objectivity to know that the authors views are not representative of more critical approaches both to the person and the art.
In short, a fine work to have in hand as one seeks to grasp one of the most financially and critically acclaimed of near contemporary artists. There is a bit too much of the adulatory rhetoric, "great" and "masterpiece" for my taste but this is a common failing of art historians (among others). The book is clearly written and the evidence sufficiently diversified to allow the reader to make some preliminary judgments of the man and his work. Needless to say, the violent imagery of the paintings and homosexuality (most of Bacon's life was led before it became "Gay") of the life need elicit no evaluative response from the reader. As Bacon would no doubt assert, take it or leave it, but retain the right to condemn or condone in terms of one's own vision.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2009
Verified Purchase
I wish my late fiance (British) had lived to see me delving into one of his favorite artists, Francis Bacon. He would be stunned at my complete turn-around. Until recently, anything Francis Bacon was a total turn-off. His work, anything about him. Then I saw LOVE IS THE DEVIL and cannot get enough information about this brilliant but demon-driven man. This book is so intelligently and sympathetically written. It is a rather extensive book that I hated to put down. The author must have interviewed every person Bacon had known since childhood to get the background he covers. Family, nanny (who played an enormous role in his childhood and adulthood), the men, the women, the enemies, the friends, his work, his feelings about his work. I bought my copy from amazon.com but it came from the UK in no time. If you have any desire to learn anything about the artist (who was born 100 years ago this year), I suggest you get a copy immediately before it is out of print. I am hoping that the retrospective of his work that is supposed to take place this year in NYC will generate enough interest that these books will become readily available again. See LOVE IS THE DEVIL (with Derek Jacobi & Daniel Craig) and then read this book. This book defies the myth that Bacon met George Dyer when he fell from his skylight one night to rob him. Farson's book says this is the story he always heard. It is the first scene in the film. But Peppiatt claims they met in a bar. I rather prefer the falling from the skylight version myself. Once you have read Farson and Peppiatt's books, get 7 REECE MEWS FRANCIS BACON'S STUDIO. A small, lovely color photography book of his studio after his death. You have to read that one with a magnifying glass so that you don't miss a single item on the page. Well worth the trouble. Graham would be so proud of me! Finally, I understand what all the fuss was about.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Michael Peppiatt has resources for his book that defy belief. Francis Bacon was indeed an enigmatic person and artist and I suppose that the lurid details of his existence may shed some light on the paintings. But not, I think, to the degree that the author would have us believe. Some of the most glorious works of art have been created by personalities who border on beastial (Richard Wagner, Diego Rivera, Rodin et al) and so I suppose that knowing that Bacon was night gutter tramp may illuminate some of his portaits. The book does add to the literature on Bacon by introducing a number a fascinating photographs and for the reader who needs to know it all, well here is that cluttered closet.
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on December 1, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It is a bit of a trudge. It does hit all the high and low points, though. The author met Francis Bacon later in the artist's life and there are gaps in the tale that only Francis Bacon could fill in. It seems that Bacon was not always generous or honest in giving the author that information.

The paintings are the thing, however, and this biography sketches in a background for them.
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