The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter review – last rites for a great artist

A fragmentary, poetic reimagining of Bacon’s last days in Madrid reads like a private communion with the painter

The facts of the death of Francis Bacon were these: in April 1992, the artist, against his doctor’s advice, took a trip to Madrid to visit his last great love, the young banker José Capelo, the subject of his final triptych of paintings. A few days after arriving in the city, Bacon, aged 82, was taken by ambulance to a convent hospital, suffering from familiar kidney and breathing problems. For six days until his death he remained in intensive care, looked after by a nun called Sister Mercedes. In those six days, the atheist Bacon received no visitors and, with limited Spanish, spoke only a few words. His body was cremated two days after his death, according to his wishes, at a municipal cemetery, without ceremony or mourners. As his biographer Michael Peppiatt noted: “A life filled with the extremes of human emotion and devoted to expressing them with utmost force had ended, almost anonymously, in utter silence.”

Related: Max Porter: ‘Writing allows me to worry about stuff better’

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