Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Wickedness of the Duchess of Windsor

”Nobody seemed familiar with him or his work. Finally I found someone who knew him, the painter Michael Wishart. My instincts had been correct. The youngish man was indeed Francis Bacon, and the house opposite ours belonged to his cousin, a Miss Watson, who owned virtually all that was left of the serveral hundred paintings Francis had destroyed. Forget about her, Michael said, come and meet Francis. Francis lived across from South Kensington Station in a vast gloomy studio that had belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais... Michael had told me about the illicit roulette parties that Francis, who was an accomplished croupier, liked to organise. He also told me about the rough trade and the drinking and the fishnet stockings. What he had not mentioned was Francis's sightless old nanny, Jessie Lightfoot, who sat knitting in a rocking chair, mumbling away about the wickedness of the Duchess of Windsor: ’They better bring back the gibbet for her.’ At night, the kitchen table doubled as her bed. Nanny Lightfoot, I suddenly realized, must have given Francis the idea for the central panel of his early masterpiece, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. She must have taught him the same game that many old-time nannies (mine included) taught their charges: how to turn a fist into a face. Make a fist, stick the tip of your thumb between the knuckles of your first and second fingers and the black ends of two matches either side of the second and third ones, drape a handkerchief over the fist, and it turns into a head like the one in the Bacon. I thought it wiser to keep this discovery to myself.”

Extract from The Sorcerer's Apprentice by John Richardson

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