Francis Bacon (artist) - Return To London

Return To London

Bacon returned to London late in 1928 or early 1929, and started work as an interior designer. He took a studio at 17 Queensberry Mews West, South Kensington, and shared the upper floor with Eric Alden – later to become his first collector – and his childhood nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. Bacon advertised himself as a "gentleman's companion" in The Times, on the front page (then reserved for personal messages and insertions). Among the many answers carefully vetted by Nanny Lightfoot was one from an elderly cousin of Douglas Cooper, at that time owner of one of the finest collections of modern art in England. The gentleman, having paid Bacon for his services, found him part-time work as a telephone operator in a London club and further sought Cooper's help in promoting Bacon's developing skill as a designer of furniture and interiors. Cooper also commissioned a desk from Bacon in battleship grey around this time.

In 1929 he met Eric Hall at the Bath Club, Dover Street, where Bacon was working at the telephone exchange. Hall was to be both patron and lover to Bacon, in an often torturous relationship. The first show in the winter of 1929, at Queensberry Mews, was of Bacon's carpet rugs and furniture, and may have included Painted screen (ca. 1929–1930) and Watercolour (1929). Watercolour (1929) his earliest surviving painting, seems to have evolved from his rug designs, in turn influenced by the paintings and tapestries of Jean Lurçat. Sydney Butler (daughter of Samuel Courtauld and wife of Rab Butler) commissioned a glass and steel table and a set of stools for the dining room of her Smith Square house.... Bacon's Queensberry Mews studio was featured in the August 1930 issue of The Studio magazine, in a double page article entitled "The 1930 Look in British Decoration". The piece showed work including a large round mirror, some rugs and tubular steel and glass furniture largely influenced by the International Style, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier/Charlotte Perriand and Eileen Gray.

He returned to Germany in 1930. A dramatic studio portrait taken of Bacon by Helmar Lerski, a Swiss photographer and cinematographer, probably dates from this visit. Bacon was later to tell Stephen Spender that he had been very impressed by the work of a photographer who had produced striking effects using mirrors and natural light filtered through screens, but that he could not remember the artist's name. Later that year Francis Bacon met Roy de Maistre, an Australian painter who was to become a close friend and mentor. De Maistre's circle included Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Patrick White and Douglas Cooper. A second exhibition was held between 4–22 November at 17 Queensberry Mews. Alongside de Maistre and Jean Sheppeard, Bacon showed four paintings and one print. Gouache (1929) may be the piece titled as A Brick Wall in the hand-list. Painting (1929–1930) (probably the work listed as Tree by the Sea) is Bacon's earliest surviving oil painting. Both were bought by Alden. The two other paintings (Self-portrait and Two Brothers) and print (Dark Child in an edition of three) are now lost.

Bacon left the Queensberry Mews West studio in 1931, and was not to have a settled space for some years. Bacon probably shared a studio with Roy de Maistre, circa 1931/32, at Carlyle Studios (just off the Kings Road) in Chelsea. Portrait (1932) and Portrait (ca. 1931–1932) (the latter bought by Diana Watson) both show a round-faced youth with diseased skin (painted after Bacon saw Ibsen's Ghosts), and date from a brief stay in a studio on the Fulham Road. In 1932, Bacon was commissioned by Gladys MacDermot, an Irish woman who had lived in Australia, to redesign much of the decoration and furniture of her flat at 98 Ridgmount Gardens in Bloomsbury. Bacon recalled that she was "always filling me up with food".

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