Behind the £35 million sale of a landmark painting lies the colorful tale written by Richard Kaye

Like all good feuds, theirs began a storm of mutual admiration—even passion—that led some in bohemian circles in London to question whether there was a joy of romance in their friendship.

But it was art, not sex, that attracted Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon to each other. Bacon, who was expelled from the family home when his father found him dressed in his mother’s clothes, had no children and was homosexual; Whereas Freud, who admitted 14 children but may have fathered as many as 40, was an ardent stalker of women.

Both men had an enormous appetite for the good life. For more than 30 years, the two have been inseparable, drinking and dining in lavish Soho bars and clubs, gambling – Bacon roulette, Freud’s horse race – and enjoying each other’s company.

And of course, they painted each other, too – in fact, Freud sat with Bacon no less than 18 times.

It was such a closeness that Lady Caroline Blackwood, Freud’s second wife, remarked that she had dined with Bacon “nearly almost every night for the duration of my marriage to Lucien–we had lunch too.” The marriage, inevitably perhaps, lasted only four years.

Freud recalled seeing Bacon at some point almost every day for a quarter of a century.

The couple checked each other’s work. As Bacon said, “Who can I tear to pieces if not my friends?”

Unfortunately, over time, this competitive rivalry consumed their friendship and their mutual respect for one another descended into envy, resentment, and hatred.

Bacon’s 1964 work Study For Portrait Of Lucian Freud, which is expected to be auctioned for £35 million, has resold the story of one of the art world’s greatest stories.

It is as exciting and colorful a story as any of the masterpieces produced by the two men. It also followed a noble artistic tradition.

Van Gogh and Gauguin were also friends who turned enemies and when their relationship ended, the Dutchman cut off his ear.

Study of a portrait of Lucian Freud, a portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud

Study of a portrait of Lucian Freud, a portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud

If only the toxic feud between Freud and Bacon had not descended to such appalling levels, nor had he done anything to diminish their public standing as Britain’s greatest post-war artist: the turner and the policeman of their era.

No artists have done more than Freud and Bacon to revitalize figurative painting, and both lived to see their works sold for millions of pounds.

Such prestige and fortunes must have seemed so far-fetched when they first met on the bombed and dangerous streets of Soho in the mid-1940s.

Freud, who was 13 years younger than Bacon, looked at the older man, who was a fine example of how to conduct an artist’s life while also embodying the aristocratic spirit.

In the background, they couldn’t be more different. Born in 1909 to well-off British parents in Ireland where his father trained racehorses, Bacon received little formal education due to severe asthma. His childhood was turbulent, not least because of his abusive father, who once ordered stable boys to flog him.

After spending time in Paris and Berlin, he arrived in London in 1930 where he found work as a gentleman, only to be fired when his master saw him eating dinner at the next table in the Ritz.

As one biographer pointed out, flamed bacon “can be found in the gutter or the Ritz and was at home in both.”

Even in later years, when he was recognized as England’s best painter for 150 years and his work sold for many millions, Bacon still preferred to travel by bus and live in the same shoddy house he had been in for years.

For a time, he was making a precarious living as a furniture and carpet designer, and only began painting in earnest in the closing years of World War II.

His work, self-taught, demonstrated great artistic ability and originality that revolutionized the art world. However, he was his harshest critic and he destroyed more canvases than survived from that period.

Born in Germany in 1922 and raised in Berlin during the rising Nazi tide, Freud attended art school. As a Jew and grandson of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who was abhorred by the Nazis, he had to be accompanied by a bodyguard to and from his private school.

The family fled to Britain and Lucian was sent to Bryanston Public School in Dorset. He was fired for dropping his pants for daring in Bournemouth.

However, there were other domestic similarities with Bacon. He had a lifelong estrangement from his younger brother Clement, a broadcaster and former liberal MP, and was only partially reconciled with his older brother Stephen, an iron merchant.

After a stint in war service in the Merchant Navy, he began painting full time from his early twenties.

Like Bacon, Freud gravitated toward the drinking dens, illegal betting shops, and illegal sex halls of Soho. They both love gilded dirt.

In Bacon, Freud found a tutor not only in art but in life. Learn from him the best wines, food, and tailoring. They spent much of their time in the Gargoyle Club and later in the Colony Room, drinking and arguing with figures such as philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But they, usually, prefer to be alone, and if they can, they exclude everyone else.

Many found this obsession with self intolerable, and rumors spread that the couple slept together. Biographers suggested that this friendship had a “semi-erotic undertone” but that it was “sensual” rather than sexual.

Freud’s daughter Annie said her father described Bacon as having the most sensitive forearms. . . This looks like a lover, right?

The two were seldom separate – breakfast at the Working Man’s Café at Smithfield Market, lunch at Wheeler on Old Compton Street, and then drinking at the Colony.

For over 30 years, the two have been inseparable, drinking and spilling in the lavish Soho bars and clubs, gambling ¿roulette for Bacon, horse-track for Freud ¿ and enjoying each other's company Pictured: Friends Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud by Harry Diamond

For over 30 years, the two have been inseparable, drinking and dining in lavish Soho bars and clubs, gambling – Roulette for Bacon, horse-track for Freud – and enjoying each other’s company Pictured: Friends Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud by Harry Diamond

Friends remember that many of them flaunted them.

Then there was the gambling: both men were reckless. On one occasion, Freud lost everything he owned, including his car, which he went home to fetch and drove to a garage to sell it, putting the proceeds on a horse that also lost.

Bacon was similarly lavish, throwing money at people and buying exorbitant rounds of drinks. He would say, “Champagne for my real friends – real pain for my imaginary friends.”

In 1949, they attended a white party where Princess Margaret took the microphone and began singing Cole Porter’s classic, Let’s Do It. Bacon, who was standing with Freud, began to boo and whistle and the red-faced Margaret in the middle of the song ran off with her ladies-in-waiting. Freud declared his friend to be the most dangerous man he had ever met, “the wildest and the wisest”.

Although they painted in the same tradition, their styles were very different. Freud loved to show a woman’s body, wrinkled by age and imperfections. Bacon’s distorted photographs captured the strange horror of modern life.

When Lucian first sat down at Bacon in 1951, he was fascinated by Bacon’s quick and spontaneous approach. When Bacon sat down with Freud the following year, he was amazed at how long the younger man took to paint. This painting was stolen from an exhibition in Berlin in 1988.

However, their sexual orientation was completely different. Henrietta Moraes, muse to both men, Freud painted and delighted – for Bacon Beauty was a babysitter and a drinking companion.

Freud was disturbed by his friend’s taste for the ruthless male trade and could not understand his relationship with George Dyer, a drug abuser for the Cray crime gang family. Bacon loved scammers and was not sexually frightened at a time when gays caught red-handed could still be imprisoned.

Bacon did not approve of Freud’s treatment of the aristocrats. But Freud relied on this “luxury trade” in his images and the ruthless candor offered by the upper classes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Freud was the least successful and was seen by the arrogant art world as Bacon’s “pet”. But everything changed with Freud’s first big show in 1969.

Suddenly, Freud found sycophants about Bacon tired while Bacon was tired of Freud’s refusal to acknowledge any kind of “duty.” They also became impatient with each other’s sexual obsessions.

Francis becomes “bitter and controversial” towards his one-time protectors. When the rift opened, Bacon ferociously remarked his girlfriend once: “She is. [Freud’s] She left me after all this time and has all these kids just to prove that she’s not gay.

Freud, who was now the most substantial figure, limited his general observations to criticism of Bacon’s art. “Gestley,” he said of his work from the 1980s onwards.

Matters came to a head when Freud accepted the tribute – both men had been turned down by the CBE. But Freud accepted CH – a companion of honor – and later became OM, a member of the Order of Merit. Bacon noted: “I have come into this world as Mr. Bacon, and I want to leave as Mr. Bacon.”

They met occasionally in the ’80s, but their encounters were punctuated by longer periods of silence than ever before. On one occasion, Freud phoned Bacon at home. The conversation ended with Francis red-faced hitting the receiver so violently that the wall shook.

A few years later – and shortly before his death in 1992 – Bacon was eating breakfast in a London restaurant when Freud walked in and past his table nonstop. “That’s how it goes,” Bacon noted wistfully.

Freud, who outlived his ex-boyfriend by 19 years, had other conflicts with lovers, friends, and clients. There was no affinity with Bacon – but he kept one of his paintings hanging on his bedroom wall until the day he died.

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