- Study for Portrait of P.L, No. I
- oil on canvas
- 198 by 142cm.; 78 by 56in.
- Executed in 1957.
Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan
Carlo Monzino, Rome (acquired from the above in 1959)
Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art, 3 November 1987, Lot 45
Private Collection, Belgium
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1990
Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1962, p. 143, no. 57, illustrated (incorrectly titled and dated)
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Faces and Figures, 1989, n.p. no. 22
Lorenza Trucchi, Francis Bacon, Milan 1984, n.p., no. 56, illustrated in colour (incorrectly titled and dated)
In the present work, Lacy appears wraith-like against the velvety darkness of his support, which in turn emerges from a background of deep midnight hues. The overall impression is curiously reminiscent of one of Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Paintings of the mid-1950s, in which the artist investigates the possibilities of black as an abstract entity. In an intriguing counterpart to the overwhelmingly dark tonality of Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1, Bacon also worked on a series of portraits inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s The Painter on His Way to Work, throughout 1957. In their riot of bold colour and texture, the Van Gogh series ostensibly appear to contrast starkly with the restraint of the present work. However, Peppiatt argues that the complexities of Bacon’s relationship with Lacy served as an equal driving force behind the creation of these works: “Van Gogh represented the ultimate outsider… and Bacon, distraught and trapped in the extreme alienation of an unhappy love affair, surely saw his own suffering reflected in the bowed figure trudging towards the strange isolation of making paintings in a field” (ibid., pp. 206-07).
In 1952, having met Peter Lacy in Soho’s Colony Room, Bacon embarked on what was to become “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was ever to know” (Michael Peppiatt in: Exhibition Catalogue, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, pp. 57-58). The artist revealed the tumult of his relationship with the former Battle of Britain pilot, declaring that: “I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him” (ibid., p. 42). Bacon had fallen in love partly because Lacy knew how to dominate and hurt him. Tough, to the point of cruelty, Lacy’s demeanour held Bacon perpetually in an emotional and physical vice and although Lacy was one of the most significant loves of his life, this tempestuous affair was ultimately calamitous. Bacon later lamented in conversation with Peppiatt that: “Being in love in that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness” (ibid., p. 40).
The turbulent and often violent relationship that existed between Bacon and Lacy was dominated by obsessive love and passion, by aggression, disdain and excessive abuse of alcohol. Isabel Rawsthorne recalled a particular incident in 1952: “Francis was thrown out of a window 15ft into [the] area below, by Peter, but being drunk survived without much damage” (Isabel Rawsthorne quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Francis Bacon, 2008-09, p. 259). Lacy moved to Tangiers in the mid-1950s, where he lived on a meagre income by playing the piano in a local bar. Whilst Bacon kept his studio in London he made extended trips there during the summers of 1956 and 1957, and they also went to the South of France together on a number of occasions in the late 1950s. The lifestyle of Tangiers was perceived as exotic and had a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, offering an escapism that was liberating for them both. Although Bacon’s relationship with Lacy had effectively finished by the end of 1958, the artist was unable to resist an appeal by Lacy to visit him for a final time. As a man trapped in the grasp of alcoholism, the city ultimately proved to be a tragically fatal arena: news of Lacy’s death came shatteringly amongst the many telegrams of congratulations that Bacon received on the eve of his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962.
The 1950s saw Bacon’s reputation as an internationally acclaimed artist rise in concert with the number of shows he exhibited in at the urgings of his loyal dealer, Erica Brausen. He was particularly prolific during his time in Tangiers in 1956 and 1957 where, inspired by the local lifestyle as much as his relationship with Lacy, he wrote to Brausen that: “I hope to come back with about 20 or 25 paintings early in October… I feel full of work and believe I may do a few really good paintings now” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., 2008, p. 211). However, the majority of the works created during his time in Morocco were in fact destroyed, either by Bacon himself or by Lacy: the fact that the present work survived from this somewhat chaotic period is arguably indicative of the immense importance that Bacon attached to it. An astonishing and intensely powerful chronicle of a formative relationship within Bacon’s life, Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 1 ranks as an undoubted masterpiece from this key stage of the artist’s career.