Michael Andrews painted this picture at a time when he was trying to break away from the controlled form of he had learnt at the Slade School of Art, where William Coldstream was one of his teachers. This painting in particular, Andrews has said, marked a liberation for him and he sees it as 'one of the pictures which has given me the greatest excitement painting. I went directly for excitement'. He also emphasised that in it the creation of 'atmosphere and ambience' took precedence over the formal structure of the picture, contrary to Slade School doctrine: 'The atmosphere of the image dictated the structure of the picture.' 'The Deer Park' is one of a trio of large paintings of party scenes which have been seen as a milestone in Andrews's development as a painter, although the subject was signalled in another large painting 'Late Evening on a Summer Day' of 1957. Andrews's desire to break with the traditions of Slade style seems to have gone hand in hand with an ambivalent fascination with the bohemian life symbolised by the party, bar or nightclub. Significantly, the central figure, seated in white in the foreground of 'The Deer Park' is a of Rimbaud who perhaps more than any other great poet exemplifies both the untrammelled exercise of creative freedom and the extremes of the bohemian lifestyle. Significantly, also, the first of the three party paintings was of the bar of the Colony Room, a private club in Soho, London which has achieved mythic status in the annals of recent British art on account of its extraordinary proprietor Muriel Beicher and its clientele of leading artists, notably Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. 'The Deer Park' was inspired by Norman Mailer's novel of the same title published in 1957. It is set in Desert D'Or, described on the book's jacket as 'a resort where the elite of Hollywood gathers and tangles. The habits of these people, their characters and morals, are vividly presented ...' Much of the action of the novel revolves around the house of Dorothy O'Fay, a retired night club performer, call girl and successful gossip columnist. She holds continuous open house for the inhabitants of Desert D'Or and her house is known as The Hangover. Her son Marion is a pimp by vocation with free access to both the highest and lowest levels of Desert D'Or society. It is he who is represented by the figure of Rimbaud: Andrews wrote: 'Marion Faye must have had a deadly kind of charm and was guided by fate and Rimbaud was a parallel figure.' When he read the novel Andrews felt that it represented a 'cosmological extension' of the world of the Colony Room, 'Soho writ large'. The painting represents Andrews's vision of a party in progress at The Hangover and he has peopled it with a selection of real celebrities. The figure leaning on the curved bar on the right is based on a photograph of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, the two figures dancing closely on the balcony at the top right are based on a photograph of Marilyn Monroe and Jose Balanos. The mural painting in the background is based on 'The Boarhunt' by Velasquez in the National Gallery, London, and Andrews saw the enclosed area of the hunt as 'a parallel to the enclosed world of the playpen/trap in which the characters in "The Deer Park" moved.'
The title of Mailer's novel refers to the notorious royal brothel, Le Parc aux Cerfs, established by the profligate French King Louis XV at Versailles, and reputedly managed for him by his chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour.
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.252