... an engrossing portrait of the artist, his art, and his incorrigible personality ... Stevens and Swan...are in top form with this biography. Their detailed analysis of Bacon’s artwork is vigorous and accessible and for the most part as interesting as their chronicles of Bacon’s sex life, gambling, professional feuds, and glamorous art gallery fetes. The book includes 90 archival photos and fine color transfers of some of Bacon’s most defining works of art.
It is enormously detailed; we get the details, and the details’ details ... Such exhaustiveness can be deadening, but here, for the most part, it isn’t. Swan and Stevens are very good storytellers. Also, the book is warmed by the writers’ clear affection for Bacon. They enjoy his boozy nights with him, they laugh at his jokes, and they admire his bloody-mindedness. They do not believe everything he said, and they let us know this, but they are always in his corner, and they stress virtues of his that we wouldn’t have known to look for: his gregariousness, his love of fun, his erudition, his extreme generosity. However many people were at the table, he always picked up the tab.
... over 700 lucid and engrossing pages, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan retrace and distil this myth, adding facets to a figure whose celebrity became, in his lifetime, a carapace and remained as a death mask ... Much of what follows, as we enter the main act of Bacon’s life, is familiar...yet the authors give the tale a fresh momentum, a feeling of life as it happened, rather than the chiaroscuro Life that became the foundation of Bacon’s persona and the mirror image of his art. ... The women closest to Bacon emerge particularly clearly ... Bacon’s intelligence, charm, acerbity, nihilism and restlessness resonate throughout these pages ... Much of the book’s power is in inducing us to see again, from a new angle, what has previously appeared familiar ... numerous other paintings receive eloquent analyses ... not an art historian’s encomium, however, any more than it is a hagiography. The authors are candid about the second-rate quality of some of Bacon’s work, particularly in later years when he ceased to edit his output so voraciously ... One of the many marvels of Revelations is just how present and immediate Bacon is made to seem (in contrast to William Feaver’s monumental biography of Freud, in which the subject grows ever more remote and repellent). Even as he ebbs away, we see and hear him vividly ... What Revelations leaves us with powerfully is Bacon’s mercurial, electric character and a palpable sense of his body: his fluid gait, his 'flutey' voice, and a face ever more asymmetrical as time progressed.
In Bacon, Mena saw something that was apt to escape others – a gilded ease, as well as an isolation; an unexpected tenderness – and in their magnificent new life of the artist, the Pulitzer prize-winning critics Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan are wise enough to make good use of it, deploying Mena’s memory at a point when others might have been inclined, in the race to the finish, to throw it away. But then, this is them all over. How judicious they are, how determined to rub away at their subject’s corners ... The authors are diligent about the shows, the critics, the mentors. It’s fascinating (and startling, when you consider what his studio looked like) to read of his first career ... But where they really triumph is in their sympathetic, psychologically convincing accounts of his love life .. This book’s great achievement is that it does not confuse flexibility in the matter of relationships with insincerity, nor ravenous desire with decadence. Bacon, you come to understand, was fundamentally serious, and fundamentally loving. If his heart was often on the hustle, it was also ardent: as twisted and as fervent as his art.
The Bacon who emerges in Stevens and Swan’s biography has the clammy decorum of a proper Englishman cut with the tragicomic wit of the Irish. He erased or denied parts of his history he didn’t like; he destroyed canvases that fell short of an impossible perfection; he couldn’t speak about himself without getting drunk first. He was an S&M enthusiast who lived with his childhood nanny. He painted disturbing vignettes but was an effervescent fixture at London bars. His states of betweenness, of paradox, make him that rare artist who actually rewards 900 infatuated pages.
[A] definitive life ... Stevens and Swan furnish an exhaustive account, painting by painting, exhibition by exhibition, of how Bacon’s wild innovations in figurative art countered the mid-20th-century fashions for both abstract expressionism and pop art. They have great fun, too, as they chronicle Bacon’s wit, charm, extravagance, and cruelty ... Stevens and Swan are vivid scene setters. They’re also shrewd evaluators of the people in Bacon’s life, including painter Lucian Freud and Bacon’s doomed lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer ... does justice to the contradictions of both the man and the art.
The American art critics Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan have compiled a weighty, thorough and compelling biography of the artist that records nine decades of intense moments. Bacon, especially as the wild man of Soho, has been thoroughly mythologised, but this authorised life brings the carousing, the paintings and the public and private lives together to form a convincing and often touching whole. The book’s daunting size is not authorial indulgence — though they write with documentary diligence — but a reflection of how rich Bacon’s life was ... The drinking, cattiness and profligacy all added spice to the public persona. Underneath it, though, as the authors show in their measured and non-judgmental way, lay poignancy and neediness too.
...it is interesting to consider Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan’s Francis Bacon: Revelations. The husband and wife team from New York portray Bacon’s life and work as an epitome of the twentieth century ... Of 850 pages the writers deploy over 700 of evidence and analysis appended by 150 of notes. In addition the type font is the tiniest, I imagine, permitted by law. All this amounts to a mind-bogglingly large number of words. The impressive looking tome, which took a decade to complete, benefits from some glossy colour plates as well as black and white illustrations and photographs ... The structure of Francis Bacon: Revelations is quite witty ... Stevens and Swan on the other hand, give thousands of telling details thus providing a definitive and compelling account of Bacon’s life, one which goes a long way towards explaining why his art is so explosive and controversial.
Stevens and Swan are excellent investigators, presenting novel details of Bacon’s early affairs, his short-lived interior-design career and the two years he spent in Hampshire during World War II, when asthma forced his retreat from London ... The book is bejeweled with sensuous detail...Such flourishes, which, in true Bacon style, speak 'directly on the nervous system,' may well have pleased the artist ... Stevens and Swan are strong on the Aeschylean patterning of Bacon’s life ... The iconoclastic charm of the artist keeps the pages turning ... Bacon once said that telling his life story “would take a Proust.” A tall order — though Stevens and Swan do share a Proustian eye for the social whirl and the encroachments of 'time and the wrecking ball' ... One of the achievements of Revelations is to capture this social change alongside the life of its subject. It’s a portrait of vanished worlds, of a 20th-century style of darkness now past. Our fresh horrors await new geniuses.
One difficulty for this new biography, and all writing on Bacon, is disentangling the truth of his (always vividly and brilliantly expressed) self-made myth ... One of the achievements of this biography is to have filled in a great deal of detail, especially about Bacon’s childhood and life before his surprisingly late emergence ... This is by no means the first biography of Bacon. He fended off such publications during his lifetime, but a spate appeared soon after his death, and more contributions have come along since (including from me). Some of the others, written by people who knew and drank with Bacon, have a stronger sense of that unique personality ... Revelations is, however, by some way the most thorough and painstaking version of Bacon’s life to date. It adds a great deal of detail and corrects numerous misconceptions. The writing is always elegant and the works are sensitively described. Yet... Bacon often spoke of his attempt to ‘trap’ his subject, so as to capture the sense of its vitality ‘more vividly’. Here that doesn’t always happen; on the contrary, like one of the blurred figures in his paintings, Bacon seems to be in the process of escaping.
It’s Bacon’s kindness and decency the authors take pains to evoke — his beautiful manners, his generosity...I deflated along with you. What else do Bacon’s relationships, however outré, reveal but wild longing? Hadn’t he laid out those very connections for us? Does the fact that he was interested in abjection, on and off the canvas, preclude him from writing affectionate letters to his mother? ... The authors, so frank on de Kooning’s private life, turn prim and almost anthropological when it comes to Bacon — and not even on the rough stuff. I began to hear the sentences in David Attenborough’s voice ... Happily, this leviathan of a book (just shy of 900 pages), contains at least a half dozen more profitable arguments. It is the most comprehensive and detailed account of the life, and one that topples central pillars of the Bacon myth ... Revelations makes use of one splendid improvisation of its own. At the end of each chapter, there is a close reading of one painting...In a book of such ambition and scope, it is finally — and fittingly, for an artist so private about his work — the modesty of this claim, of what can be known, that is its most moving achievement.
This husband-and-wife team have been thorough: Bacon’s childhood and the peculiarities of his background are lovingly chronicled, as is his little-known early career as a furniture designer ... while it is not short of gossip, Revelations falls short on its titular promise: if anything, it punctures some of Bacon’s most notorious episodes. Unlike their subject, Stevens and Swan prefer not to let a good story get in the way of truth, suggesting that well-known tales such as the artist hiring an Alsatian dog to inflame his asthma so as to avoid being conscripted for active service had been sexed up (or even fabricated) ... While the tale is pacy, there is an odd sense of distance from Bacon – a formal froideur – that almost feels like disapproval. Perhaps the authors fear, had their subject still been alive, the sentiment would have been mutual.
... the most comprehensive study of one of the leading figures of modernism ... In some 800 pages of text and footnotes, the authors—aided by the artist’s estate—detail the trajectory of Bacon’s career with archaeological precision, excavating public and private records to unearth how the openly homosexual painter, 'preternaturally attuned to the social stage,' crafted a rebellious public persona characterized by excesses of sex and violence, drink and drugs ... Neither hagiographic nor sordid ... The authors are adept at contextualizing Bacon’s artistic development within the story of his romances and exploits and go to great lengths to correct the record, dispelling errant mythologies (often propagated by Bacon himself) that lean too heavily on assertions of natural genius ... Their comprehensiveness is particularly instructive when illuminating his years as a commercial furniture and rug designer in the 1930s, a facet of his career that Bacon rarely discussed in public, lest it detract from his reputation as a painter of the macabre ... one wishes there were richer descriptions of other notable works ... In attending to the many details and specifics of Bacon’s life as well as his legacy, Revelations comprises a more satisfying portrait of the artist.
For Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, two Pulitzer Prize-winning American arts journalists, Bacon has been a decade-long obsession. And with Francis Bacon: Revelations, an 800-page tome, they are clearly aiming for the definitive biography. Bacon, however, proves an elusive prey ... The biographers don’t entirely unpick the psychology of a man who could go to a champagne reception while his dead lover sat slumped on a lavatory. But, although generous to their subject, Stevens and Swan have succeeded in creating an incomparable resource for art historians, dealers, curators and collectors.
This large, generous book contains it all: the childhood whippings by his father’s servants, the adolescent flight to interwar Berlin and Paris, the thieving, the cat burgling adventures, the overnight fame, the gangsters, beatings, the postwar Tangier dives and the long-lost nights of Soho in its bohemian prime; the wild, hilarious, bitchy lunches at Wheeler’s – all those oysters, all that champagne – and, of course, the dramatic self-destruction of his two great loves, Peter Lacy and George Dyer, one by whisky and one by drugs. Too much! Too much, because the story can elbow aside the achievement of the paintings. It’s a jagged, jump-cut biopic spangled with glitter and squalor that dares you to look away. Sex. Death. Glamour. Gossip, gossip, gossip. With all this noise, how can we plant our feet, focus and look levelly at the actual, you know, paintings? ... The authors of this monster biography do at times bring out Bacon’s winning character, wit and mischief. However, being American critics, they sometimes struggle with milieux that may be more familiar to British writers. There are some passages of solemn explanation which become wooden. But their virtue is they are great completists and cross-checkers, which means they debunk some of the stories and give us a full explanation of who was who ... They are particularly strong on the early years, misted by Bacon-derived myths ... Does this book deserve its bold subtitle Revelations? Not really. We have known all the shocking stuff for a long time already. This is a work of real scholarship and seriousness. But London’s bohemia has many fine historians already, people who were there at the time and remember the rhythm and timbre of Francis Bacon in full flow. I don’t suppose those who know their Daniel Farson and Michael Peppiatt will be surprised by anything here. And if that seems a tad ungracious for such a heavy, serious and well-meant book, I can only reply by reassuring Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan that, duckies, Muriel Belcher, the chatelaine of Bacon’s favoured drinking den, the Colony Room Club, would have been ruder by far.
An appropriately hefty biography of the mercurial artist ... In this exhaustively researched, well-rounded profile, which took a decade to complete, Stevens and Swan make one of the few attempts to give a holistic account of the iconic Bacon (1909-1992) ... The authors skimp neither on context nor on details regarding Bacon’s friends and lovers, and they are unafraid to dig into the more volatile elements of his character ... Hyperbole, to be sure, but Stevens and Swan are up to the task of demonstrating the many complexities of an intense, significant artistic life. An unflinching portrayal of an often unwieldy character—further proof of Bacon’s enduring influence.
Mr. Stevens and Ms. Swan might, like Bacon’s friends, share a tendency to confuse the man with the art—like Oscar Wilde, Bacon was his own best work—but they bring a sober eye and an organizing mind to Bacon’s 'gilded gutter life.' As in their acclaimed 'de Kooning,' the authors frame their subject and his work as a portrait of the age ... The authors excel at illustrating his formation—Bacon destroyed almost all his early work—his manipulation of his image and value, and his helpless gambling in the power games of love. He believed in beauty and tragedy, and he got and gave both. His long romances with violent lovers like Peter Lacy, the alcoholic ex-RAF pilot who beat him savagely, and George Dyer, the petty thief who died by suicide in a hotel bathroom in 1971 on the eve of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, were tormented and cruel ... But this was who Bacon was, and who he was determined to be ... The paintings that emerged from the suffering and destruction are the spiritual testament of a Wilde man in an age when hope in humanity had been exposed as a cruel and gory joke. Bacon had the Regency gentleman’s contempt for public opinion, but his figures are alone and abused, shamed and exposed, their faces broken by the slash of the brush. The hand that held it was tremulous with fear, desire and drink, and that was his signature. His talent was protean. Had he been trained, he would have been a better draftsman, with the technical skill to integrate his figures and their backgrounds. But he would have been a worse painter.