Bacon and Beard had many shared interests and one of the most important of these was their mutual respect for Van Gogh. In 1957 Bacon had begun a series of paintings based on Van Gogh’s destroyed painting, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, 1888. In 1984 Beard commenced a campaign to bully Bacon to return to the Van Gogh subject after a gap of over thirty years and paint a homage to Van Gogh for a poster for the centenary exhibition of the Van Gogh Museum Foundation in Arles. Beard was on the Museum’s Committee and sent Bacon a series of postcards with reproductions of Van Gogh paintings, on which he told Bacon how he had retraced Van Gogh’s route around Arles and sought to appeal to Bacon’s nostalgia by remarking that so much of the countryside remained unchanged. Bacon acquiesced and painted Poster for the 1988 Van Gogh Exhibition in Arles, 1985. In September 1984, Valerie Beston recorded in her diary that Bacon ‘wants to start a new Van Gogh’. By 10 October Bacon ‘thinks VG painting has gone wrong’. Bacon must have saved it because by 13 January 1985 – he had ‘finished Van Gogh poster awaits lettering’ and on 15 February 1985 it was taken to a professional sign writer to add the text. Beard’s campaign for a return to Van Gogh succeeded and Bacon’s painting was used as the front cover to the exhibition catalogue.
‘Francis Bacon and Peter Beard: The Dead Elephant Interviews and Other Stories’ by Rebecca Daniels, featured in the exhibition catalogue Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin, 2009