John Deakin: Wheeler’s Lunch

The John Deakin photograph “Wheeler’s Lunch” is not all it seems.

Taken in his favourite seafood restaurant, Francis Bacon appears the main focus, Christ-like in the centre, under a wall plate halo. The forward-facing arrangement alludes to its other title: “Last Supper”, a nod to the irreligious Bacon, but framed by a lapsed catholic, Deakin.

Deakin dated the print to March ’63, and in December 2014 Catherine Lampert asked Frank Auerbach for his memory of the event. He recalled they assembled grumpily at 11am, and that the image was an unused commission for Queen magazine by Francis Wyndham. Bill Feaver reports that Freud, Auerbach and Andrews all confirmed no actual ‘lunch’ took place, which rather destroys the illusion, as does a closer look at the champagne bottle – unopened.

Whatever the motive, the cultural significance must have been obvious to Deakin: he was capturing the major British painters all together as friends in their natural habitat of Soho. But its more personal value to Deakin is touchingly reflected by the three rolls of film he shakily used up, taking 36 shots of one scene, and later by his arranging for them all to sign the mounted print, like a fan collecting autographs.

For the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation monthly focus, The John Deakin Archive is pleased to present here for the first time an animated sequence of the best negatives, bringing the occasion back to life. Exposing mini-narratives and new insights, we see Bacon expresses a subtle stiff-backed ‘camp’, and seems in collusion with Freud. In one frame Freud shoots Bacon his signature wide-eyed stare, which Bill Feaver claims is the only photograph to capture it. Auerbach and Andrews appear relaxed and share a joke, Behrens fidgets, nervous and uncomfortable. They look out at us, laugh, sip water and smoke.

No bread or wine taken at this last supper.

Paul Rousseau
The John Deakin Archive

Wheeler’s Lunch, 1963 (mounted print signed by each artist). Photo: John Deakin
Left to right: Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews. © The John Deakin Archive
Wheelers Lunch
© The John Deakin Archive