Peter Beard - Photographs London Thursday, May 20, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'He had a mantra that he got from Nietzsche. He was always repeating it: "Since everything's so meaningless, we might as well be extraordinary".'
    —Peter Beard on Francis Bacon

    The exceptional work offered here represents the long-term friendship and mutual admiration between two legendary artists: British painter Francis Bacon (1909-92) and American artist and writer Peter Beard. When they first met in the mid-1960s in London, Beard had just launched The End of the Game (1965), his seminal book on the destruction of African wildlife, and Bacon had just bought a copy. Despite their nearly 30-year age gap and working on opposite sides of the Atlantic, they became close friends and admirers of each other’s work, sharing a similar stance on mankind, which they fervently pursued in their art. Believing that humans were by far the worst beast, they produced carnivorous images: Beard photographed the tragic die-off of elephants while Bacon painted the brutal animal instinct of humans.



Both known for their larger-than-life personalities, Bacon and Beard inspired and respected one another, with each serving as the other’s subject on a number of occasions over the years. Bacon not only painted nine major portraits of his friend and muse, but also demonstrated a photographic sensibility that informed his own artistic practice. He particularly admired Beard’s haunting aerial photographs of elephant carcasses, hundreds of which were found in the master painter’s studio when he died. When asked about Bacon’s paintings in a 2008 interview, Beard commented, ‘…the realities in his paintings are primitive, primordial, so to me they evoke Africa. All that bleeding meat, and the dry grass: he's the greatest painter of grass, and it's African grass, not a wet English lawn.’



In addition to their visceral approach to image-making, the two shared an interest in literature, animals, Africa and most notably, an obsession with representing the effects of mankind’s inhumanity. They enjoyed passionate discussions about these subjects, which Beard eventually recorded in 1972 and named the ‘Dead Elephant Interviews’ (published in the exhibition catalogue for Bacon’s 1975 show at The Met). ‘Dead elephants,’ Bacon told Beard, ‘are more beautiful because they trigger off more ideas in me than living ones. Alive, they just remain beautiful elephants, whereas the other ones are suggestive of all types of beauty.’ In the present work, Bacon is pictured on the roof of his East London home during one of these interviews. His blurred, moving face is deeply reminiscent of his signature style of painting. In Beard’s customary and distinctive process, he has intervened with this oversized platinum print by affixing smaller gelatin silver prints showing Bacon’s paintings to create unique collage elements – an enlarged contact sheet strip along the upper right edge and two other prints at the lower right edge.



Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, spanning his 50-year career, will be opening at the Royal Academy in London in January 2022.

    • Provenance

      The Time is Always Now Gallery, New York
      Phillips, London, 18 November 2014, lot 127

    • Literature

      J. Bowermaster, The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa, Boston: Bullfinch, 1993, pl. 147 (variant)
      Peter Beard, Cologne: Taschen, 2008, pl. 239 (variant)



Francis Bacon on his roof at 80 Narrow Street, London (soon to be lost gambling), during the dead elephant interviews, March

Unique work, comprising an oversized platinum print with affixed gelatin silver prints, executed later.
Image: 96 x 140 cm (37 3/4 x 55 1/8 in.)
Sheet: 111.5 x 182 cm (43 7/8 x 71 5/8 in.)
Frame: 123 x 194 cm (48 3/8 x 76 3/8 in.)

Signed, titled, dated and annotated in pencil in the margin.

This work is unique.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £100,800

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Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

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London Auction 20 May 2021