Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Francis Bacon

The painter Francis Bacon in Ireland in the 1920s. He is standing outside the family house, so he is no older than sixteen. It was at age sixteen that Bacon's father kicked him out for good, in response to the son's unrepentant pansy ways. This photo – unknown to me until now – is reproduced in a new book from Yale University Press: Francis Bacon : Studies for a Portrait by Michael Peppiatt, who has made a full-time career for himself out of writing about Bacon over the past forty years. Some of the material here is recycled or repeated, but enough is fresh to hold the attention (or the attention of an avid fan like me, at least) and the book as an object has a satisfying compact chunky heft to it.

Self Portrait 1969

"One anecdote came back regularly in Bacon's reminiscing with friends about his early life. It concerned the moment that he, as an adolescent, had been expelled from the family home in County Kildare, Ireland, where his English-born father had set himself up, rather unsuccessfully and acrimoniously, as a horse-trainer. Relations between Eddy Bacon, a domineering former Army officer given to bouts of sour rage, and his asthmatic son, who shared none of his enthusiasm for riding and hunting, had become increasingly strained. Francis, whose interest in the arts had met with disapproval, had certainly not been well received at home after reports of his 'going with other boys' at school had reached his father's ears. Francis himself had made little secret of his 'leanings' and his appearance in the guise of a 1920s flapper at fancy-dress parties in the family's social circle were too convincing not to go unnoticed. ('He looks just like a girl!' his mother would exclaim in innocent delight). The breaking point came, in Bacon's own version of the tale, when Eddy surprised the 16-year-old boy surreptitiously trying on his mother's underclothes. The military father's fury and disappointment knew no bounds: a son of his turning into a nancy boy – in knickers and stockings! Francis was to be expelled from the family home without further ado, and in the hope that he might mend his effeminate and perverted ways, Francis was entrusted to a relative – a manly fellow who agreed to take the wayward boy with him on a trip to Berlin in the spring of 1927. But no sooner were the two English travellers settled into Berlin's luxurious Adlon Hotel than Francis found himself sharing a magnificent four-poster bed with his chaperon, who turned out to be not only manly but spectacularly and omnivorously virile."

Berlin in 1927. Isherwood moved to Berlin and started writing the Sally Bowles/Cabaret stories in 1929.