It was important to Francis Bacon, looking back to the period I knew him, and his entire career as one of the great, great painters of the twentieth century, that the work he wanted to go out to the public, the public to see, to go into museums, to go into people’s homes, to be catalogued, is the work that he oversaw that went out the door, that he scrutinised after it was framed and glassed, and he gave the thumbs-up.
If not, as when I knew, it was destroyed. He was highly critical of his work. He was his own worst critic. He would constantly rework a painting if it wasn’t up to his standard, and if something he’d reworked and wasn’t satisfied with and finally he didn’t want it, and he couldn’t put it outside in the garbage because people were going through his garbage looking for any Baconian scraps to use to sell. So the whole painting had to be destroyed, basically.
To destroy a painting takes a considerable amount of work. It has a wooden structure which you have to break or saw, and you have to rip the canvas off; it’s actually quite tiring. One night he called me down to the French Pub, down Soho. So I went down to Soho, and he was drinking, and he was well into enjoying himself, and he said he’d finished two, and I was to go back and destroy the one on the left.
So I went back, and I arrived about midnight, took the painting on the left down to the basement, sawed it up, ripped the canvas off and put it in my car for the morning; I was going to take it over to be burnt.
At four o’clock in the morning I got a telephone call, and it was a very, very irate Francis Bacon; and I got a volley of abuse from the rough edge of his tongue which would frighten the devil itself, I think.
I’d destroyed the wrong one – you fool! I said, you said the left and Francis yelled back at me: he said, any fool knows it’s on the left as you stand with your back to the painting!
We didn’t speak for about, I think three weeks after that, he was so angry.