Michael Peppiatt : Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma reviewed by Patrick McGuckin

This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.


Michael Peppiatt returned to the Ilkley Literature Festival to talk about his memoir about Francis Bacon. We were told by the chair that his book Francis Bacon in your blood, A Memoir has been described as “intimate, indiscreet, tender and treacherous”. His memoir details his recollections of being a student at Cambridge who wanted to get into writing about art. As riposte to his professor who had no regard for British Modern Art, Peppiatt set out to write an article on the subject for an ailing Cambridge magazine. Connections and suggestions lead him to a bar in Soho. Here he met Bacon for the first time who told him that he “simply adored students”. The book is a collection of his recollections over the years. Bacon knew that Peppiatt was keeping a record but told him he would not be allowed to publish anything whilst he, Bacon was alive.

Peppiatt found himself within Bacon’s circle. The photographer John Deacon described him as ‘Bacon’s Boswell’ in reference to Oscar Wilde’s young man. Peppiatt now realises that Bacon was attracted to him sexually. Peppiatt was not an alcoholic, homosexual, gambler or sadomasochist but was drawn to Bacon as he “made life much more electric”. Bacon had just begun to find fame at this point having had a successful exhibition in 1962 at the Tate. We were told that he delighted in seducing men who were not gay, hoping that he could ‘turn’ them.

Peppiatt went with Bacon to Paris and stayed there for a year helping to organise his studio and exhibitions. Peppiatt then read passages from his book to the audience. It is clear that he had a tender regard for the artist. Bacon was clearly a charmer, an affable man who was interested in people and making them feel important. He was an extremely heavy drinker with a remarkable constitution that meant he could drink until 4 a.m. and still be up painting in the studio at 8am. However, he was also prone to mood swings and could destroy people as well as paintings.

“I’ve had ghastly luck, all the people I love have been killed through drink or suicide” Peppiatt quotes Bacon as saying. With a life led in compartments and with a body of work about passion and (mostly homosexual) love, one couldn’t help feeling that it was more than ghastly luck involved in the death of those close to him.

This was a captivating account of a famous artist from the point of view of someone who was there to witness the creation of this icon.

Patrick McGuckin has lived in Ilkley for 18 years and attended Ilkley Literature Festival for most of those years. Since attending the Review Writing Workshop a few years ago on a whi his has regularly reviewed events for the Festival. Patrick also reviews performances at Ilkley Playhouse for Ilkley Gazette.


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