The Monegasque years

The Cote d’Azur exerted a powerful attraction on European artists and intellectuals from the 1920s to the 1950s. Notable visitors and residents included Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, D.H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, W.B. Yeats, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier. Monaco represented the summit of elegance, luxury and frivolity on the French Riviera.

Bacon first visited Monaco at the dawn of the 1940s. A letter, dated 3 June 1940, was sent to the artist in Monaco by his cousin, Diana Watson, informing him of his father’s death. In 1946 Erica Brausen, then at the Redfern Gallery, met Bacon through a mutual friend, Graham Sutherland, and purchased Painting 1946 from Bacon for £200. With the proceeds from the sale, Bacon immediately moved to Monaco.

The Principality of Monaco was to become Bacon’s main residence from July 1946 until the early 1950s. His first address was the Hôtel Ré, where he lived with his lover and patron Eric Hall and his cherished nanny Jessie Lightfoot. There, he enjoyed the Mediterranean landscape and the invigorating sea air, which was beneficial for his asthma. Graham and Kathleen Sutherland were among the friends with whom he regularly spent time during his early visits to Monaco.

Bacon was attracted by the atmosphere and lifestyle of Monte Carlo. The Belle Époque casino with its highly sophisticated ambiance appealed to the artist, who was a notorious gambler. In one of his interviews with David Sylvester he declared: “I remember when I lived once for a long time in Monte Carlo and I became very obsessed by the Casino and I spent whole days there […]”. The artist was driven by the exhilarating highs and lows that gambling, like painting, procured. For Bacon both activities depended on the element of chance so central to his working process.

Despite many distractions, Bacon managed to produce work in the Principality. He perceived Monaco as: “[…] very good for pictures falling ready-made into the mind.” It was in Monaco that he began to concentrate on painting the human form, a crucial step in his work that set him on the path to becoming one of the leading figurative post-war artists.

Bacon continued to visit Monaco and Southern France throughout the rest of his life. During the 1950s and 1960s, he frequently returned with his Soho and Wivenhoe circle of friends and in the 1970s and 1980s he could often be seen with his Parisian friends and his muse and companion John Edwards.

“[…] I always feel with a little clever manipulation the Casino would buy our pictures.”

Bacon writing to Graham Sutherland from the Hôtel Ré, Monaco, 1946

Background: Detail of postcard found in Bacon’s studio. Casino gardens, Monte Carlo © Editions Gilletta • Nice-Matin