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Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma

Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma

4.3 8
by Michael Peppiatt

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Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful and enigmatic creative geniuses of the twentieth century. Immediately recognizable, his paintings continue to challenge interpretation and provoke controversy. Bacon was also an extraordinary personality. Generous but cruel, forthright yet manipulative, ebullient but in despair: He was the sum of his contradictions.


Francis Bacon was one of the most powerful and enigmatic creative geniuses of the twentieth century. Immediately recognizable, his paintings continue to challenge interpretation and provoke controversy. Bacon was also an extraordinary personality. Generous but cruel, forthright yet manipulative, ebullient but in despair: He was the sum of his contradictions. This life, lived at extremes, was filled with achievement and triumph, misfortune and personal tragedy.

In his revised and updated edition of an already brilliant biography, Michael Peppiatt has drawn on fresh material that has become available in the sixteen years since the artist's death. Most importantly he includes confidential material given to him by Bacon but omitted from the first edition. It derives from the hundreds of occasions when Bacon and Peppiatt sat conversing, often late into the night, over many years, and particularly when Bacon was working in Paris. We are given insight into Bacon's intimate relationships, his artistic convictions and views on life, as well as his often-acerbic comments on his contemporaries.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Phenomenal drinking habits, chronic sleep deprivation, and a dangerous taste for the lowlife didn't seem to dampen Bacon's productivity. Perhaps they even fueled it. During his turbulent lifetime (1909-1992), Bacon was called variously "the most important and original artist of postwar Europe" and "the greatest painter of flesh since Renoir." His images of screaming mouths, writhing bodies and elongated, headless necks were intended to be an assault on the viewer's nervous system; they conveyed, to use Art International editor Peppiatt's characteristically deft phrase, "the snarl of rage and the bellow of fear" that lurk in every human being. A challenge to biographers, Bacon manipulated his public persona and was tight-lipped about his genteel Irish origins. Peppiatt, however, had the advantage of a 30-year friendship with the artist in writing this full-scale, psychological biography. Here he explores the contradictions of Bacon's psyche: guilt about being homosexual versus a desire to flout convention; atheism mixed with an obsession with religious imagery; egotism tempered by near-saintly generosity. The flamboyantly promiscuous and eccentric Bacon lives in Peppiatt's descriptions ("he walked with a springily weaving step, as if the ground rolled beneath his feet like the deck of a ship at sea"). Peppiatt doesn't ignore Bacon's dark side, but overall, this anatomy lesson is not an autopsy, but the unveiling of a sympathetic portrait. Illustrations. (June) FYI: In April, Thames & Hudson will publish Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits which included 223 color illustrations, an introduction by Milan Kundera and an essay by France Borel ($60 216p ISBN 0-500-09266-4)
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 peopleranging from Lucian Freud to Mick Jaggerwith 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 provocativealbeit 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, NYPL
New York Times Book Review
"Pleasurable reading... Peppiatt has done some original work."
Kirkus Reviews
In his time, the late Francis Bacon was regarded both as England's "most important living painter" and as a "cheap sensationalist." This excellent biography reveals a dramatic self- mythologizer who painted brilliantly enough to realize his self- cast, epic-tragic role.

Bacon created a closely guarded myth of his excessive, tumultuous personal life, never wanting his enigmatic, powerfully disturbing paintings to be explained away with a simple biographical anecdote. He also blocked biographies from being published, and destroyed many of his paintings that didn't pass muster. Peppiatt, a friend of the artist's and the editor of Art International, respects Bacon's controlling, antireductionist instinct—not out of deference, but because no brief catalog of life experiences could explain the complex horror of any one of Bacon's paintings. The artist spent his early years in Ireland and England. He was as flamboyantly gay as the times would allow and was thrown out of the family by his father, who caught him wearing Mrs. Bacon's underwear. He traveled to Berlin and Paris and lived on the edge, associating with high society and low-lifes alike—a social fluency he retained his entire life. He endured, and sometimes enjoyed, beatings from various lovers. He drank to excess, took pills, and slept little. Ultimately, Bacon synthesized an artistic territory distinctly his own; he was "insufficiently surreal" to join the surrealists and too figurative to be an abstractionist. The unsettling power of his work eventually brought throngs of visitors to the most prestigious galleries in Europe and America. And his appeal endures: A recent exhibition in France drew up to five thousand visitors a day.

Peppiatt stalks and bags elusive prey: a better understanding of a disturbing body of work created by a man who lived inscrutably, in purposeful chaos.

The New York Times
“Careful research and 30 years of acquaintance inform this biography.”
Salon Magazine
“Peppiatt’s real accomplishment is that he makes you feel Bacon as a living presence.”
The Times [London]
“Valuable first hand information . . . including wholly unexpected source material.”
Antonia Fraser - Daily Mail [London]
“Brilliantly and evocatively written.”
Richard Davenport-Hines - The Independent
“Amusing and thought-provoking.”
New York Review of Books
“An excellent, refreshingly unhagiological biography.”

Product Details

Avalon Publishing
Publication date:
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6.03(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.05(d)
1450L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Michael Peppiatt has served as literary editor for Le Monde and arts correspondent for The New York Times and the Financial Times. He has written extensively on modern and contemporary art and has been a curator for several exhibitions. In 1985 he became editor and publisher of Art International. He is married to the art historian Jill Lloyd and divides his time between Paris and London.

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Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in and then lays down on a bed. "Finaaly, I found my cabin!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the second biography I have read of Francis Bacon and Peppiatt's biography is a truly joyful read about an extraordinary and complex man. The book reads like a page turning novel ... I found it is paced beautifully and written with splendid wit and insight. An absolute must read for any admirer of the inimitable Francis Bacon.