Bacon moves to London in 1926. A series of odd jobs leads him to discover Soho’s homosexual underworld with its codes, bars and clubs.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Soho and its characters are a backdrop to what Bacon considered the most exhilarating period of his life. Bacon keeps a disciplined routine, most days working alone in his studio from early morning to midday. Then, the artist would drift into Soho for lunch, adjourning to its drinking clubs and bars. Soho soon becomes his second home. He is a regular at Wheeler’s, his favourite seafood restaurant in Old Compton Street.

Bacon discovers the Colony Room on Dean Street shortly after its opening in 1948. The cupboard-sized club, run by the extrovert Muriel Belcher, provides a place for artists to drink during the deserted afternoon hours when pubs are closed. Muriel soon becomes a cherished friend, and Bacon describes the atmosphere of the Colony as “a place where people seem to lose their inhibition”. In this unconventional club, the painter holds court for over three decades, surrounded by key habitués, his circle of friends and companions. From the Colony Room, Bacon’s typical Soho evenings would extend to places such as the Gargoyle Club, the French House or Charlie Chester’s Casino.

© ITV Studios
Group portrait of artists: (left to right) Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews, having lunch at Wheeler’s Resturant in Soho, London (1963). Photo: John Deakin © The John Deakin Archive / The James Moore Collection MB Art Collection

Francis Bacon and Muriel Belcher.
Photo: John Deakin

The French House (2013) MB Art Collection
Site of Charlie Chester’s Casino (now Bocca di Lupo restaurant), 12 Archer Street, Soho, London (2013).. MB Art Collection