Nicolas Brusolwoski, Paris
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels
Private Collection, Paris
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2000
(Seated Man) recalls the Man in Blue series from 1954, in which Bacon explored – in a predominantly blue and grisaille palette – figures in bare, economically defined spaces. Depicting suited men in awkward and ambiguous poses, inspired by Bacon’s illicit encounters with anonymous businessmen at the Imperial Hotel in Henley-on-Thames, these paintings are very much aligned in palette and physiognomy to Lacy’s likeness and in turn, the present work. Seated, hands clasped with his left leg crossed under the right, the awkwardness of pose emphasises the vulnerability and isolation of the sitter.
Peter Lacy’s cross-legged pose is a distinctive feature of the composition, and as so often in Bacon’s art, this pictorial device harbours diverse interpretation. As attested by many witnesses and documented in extensive photographs, Bacon himself often sat this way, with the calf of one leg jauntily resting on the knee of the other, and crossed-legs is a readily identifiable theme through his oeuvre. From the terrifying chimera under an umbrella in Painting, 1946 that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, through the famous Self-Portrait of 1956 that shows Bacon hunched over in a grey suit, his legs entangled and seemingly knotted together, to later self-portraits of the 1970s right up to the portraits of John Edwards, this bodily configuration reappears time and again in his corpus. In the present work however, Bacon, as was his usual practice, has reserved his most intense application of paint for the head. Captured in profile, and blurred as if in motion, the robust flesh tones are given bold relief against the cerulean blue of the couch. The copious smearing of paint used to delineate the face attains a rich texture, defining the cheek and sweepings around the right eye socket, leaving a cavernous dark space, further enhancing this compelling and emotive image.
Lacy and Bacon developed an unsteady relationship dominated by obsessive love, passion and excessive abuse of alcohol, which lasted until Lacy drank himself to death in 1962. In 1956, Lacy moved to Tangier, the decadent and exotic Tangien lifestyle offered a liberating escape. It was in Tangier, as Bacon’s dealer Valerie Beston of the Marlborough Gallery has stated, that the present work was painted. Described by Michael Peppiatt as “the greatest and most disastrous love of his life”, Bacon experienced “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was ever to know” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London 2006, pp. 57-58).
Wonderfully capturing Lacy’s nervous and elusive personality, this unconventionally restrained and emotionally tense painting unravels the sitter’s psychological and emotional essence. In the first years of his relationship with Lacy, the sense of danger had excited him. He had always sought out disaster, in his life as in his art, impelled by his own vitality and the conviction that the closer you get to it, the more clearly you saw the reality of existence. As the artist ruefully concluded, "I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him" (Francis Bacon quoted in: ibid., p. 42).
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