Book: Modernists & Mavericks ~ Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford


I picked this book up a few days ago not thinking it would hold much of interest as I have read a lot on Bacon and other artists of that time and I have not painted for a few years now but I tore through it in three days and I would highly recommend it for artists and those interested in art, especially painting. It reminded me of the years when I was struggling to paint, to find out why I was painting, what painting was and how to do it. In those years I read David Sylvester’s interviews with Francis Bacon who, perhaps because he was self-taught, is very easy to understand. Only in reading Gayford’s book do I realise how Bacon’s insistence on working to a standard became central to my own practice. Finding that knife edge between paralyzing self-criticism and constructive critique is a continuous but crucial struggle, a struggle that is sometimes dodged these days by aspiring artists in our culture of positivity, of ‘everyone is an artist’, of ‘it is what it is’. Failure is surely part of the artistic process but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be as good as we can.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992
Francis Bacon, (c.1944), Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (

Bacon’s work has come to seem a little musty to me, airless as if he painted himself into a corner at the end but then again the airlessness was part of the point and he is unique and I believe both accessible and important to the non-artist. I still love his work. Freud’s work?Not so much and Hockney? Though I have never understood his enduring popularity, Gayford’s book makes me want to read more about him.

What I also like about this book is that though its pages are dominated by male artists, as was the case in reality, Gayford has made an obvious effort to include female artists too, some of whom I have not heard of, including one Pauline Boty who died at the age of 28. Gillian Ayres who only became feted late in life is here too as is Bridget Riley. While I find revisionist history, in being eager to include women, can sometimes elevate artists who might not have deserved a place in the canon (Mainie Jellett!), in this case the artists deserve to be brought to public consciousness.

This is a fantastic overview of important decades both in painting and in London life and I would well recommend it.

Modernists & Mavericks ~ Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford, London: Thames & Hudson, 2019.


3 Replies to “Book: Modernists & Mavericks ~ Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford”

  1. Sounds good! It is staggering how many female artists have gone under the radar, same with photography. It always irks me that we have to make a case for female stuff when male stuff is just taken for granted. I think I’m off point here but ya know, wine. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not off point at all…I get irked when I see those group portraits of painters…like the abstract expressionists or the London school or the Bauhaus and all the menin their suits and the one token female…or should I say the one female that wouldnt take no for an answer!But what happened to all the other females who were pushed under by the system?who may have had talent but not the necessary bolshiness ie most women…And what irks me even more is that these days feminism is a dirty word, young women would rather die than be identified as feminst….sigh….

      Liked by 1 person

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