In 1953, Francis Bacon’s friends Lucian Freud and Caroline Blackwood were concerned about the painter’s health. His liver was in bad shape, he drank inordinately, his lover had recently thrown him out of a first-floor window in the course of a drunken row, he was taking too many amphetamines and his heart was ‘in tatters’, ‘not a ventricle working’. His doctor had warned if he took one more drink, he informed them over dinner at Wheeler’s restaurant in Soho, he might drop dead on the spot. Then, in ‘an ebullient mood’, the artist ordered Champagne.
Of course, Bacon (1909-92) didn’t expire on the spot. Instead, he lived, painted, drank and argued for another four decades. The anecdote is typical of Bacon in its high-spirited posturing on the edge of the abyss, and also in the way it makes one wonder about the facts related. Was Bacon’s doctor really that concerned?