Bacon in Monaco

Francis Bacon talking about Villa Frontalière © BBC Broadcast Archive

Bacon appears to have first visited the Principality of 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, the painter Graham Sutherland, and purchased Painting 1946 from Bacon for £200. With the proceeds from the sale, Bacon immediately left London to settle in Monaco.

The Principality was to become Bacon’s main residence from July 1946 until the early 1950s. He first resided at the Hôtel Ré, where he lived with his lover and patron Eric Hall and his nanny, Jessie Lightfoot. Graham and Kathleen Sutherland were among the friends with whom he regularly spent time during his early years in Monaco.

Bacon was attracted by the atmosphere and lifestyle of Monte Carlo; he enjoyed the Mediterranean landscape and the invigorating sea air, which was beneficial for his asthma.

The Belle Époque casino with its highly sophisticated ambiance appealed to the artist, who was an inveterate 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 […]”. Bacon was driven by the exhilarating highs and lows that gambling, like painting, procured. Gambling depended on the element of chance that was also inherent 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 embarked there on his papal figures and his ‘Head’ series and also initiated new working practices.

Throughout his life Bacon returned regularly to the Principality where he could often be seen with his friends, his lovers and his sister. Café de Paris, Chatham Bar, Pulcinella and Le Pinocchio were among his favourite bars and restaurants. His last visit to Monaco took place in 1990, two years before his death.

Francis Bacon with Reinhard Hassert in the Monte Carlo Casino gardens, November 1981.
Photo and © Eddy Batache
MB Art Collection
Villa Frontalière, Monaco (2011)
MB Art Collection

Postcard of Monaco, sent by Bacon to Denis Wirth-Miller in 1963
MB Art Collection

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)