1954-1958 When Lacy moved to Tangier in the mid-1950s, Bacon followed him. For the next few years he divided his time between Morocco and London, where his circle of friends ranged from Soho luminaries such as Muriel Belcher, John Deakin, John Minton, Michael Andrews and Frank Auerbach to the literary salons of Ann Fleming and Sonia Orwell. He got on well with Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, who became exceptionally loyal patrons. In Tangiers he struck up friendships with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, but predictably accomplished little while actually there.
His international reputation, however, continued to grow. In 1954 he exhibited with Ben Nicholson and Lucian Freud in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. When in Rome (he failed to attend the Venice Biennale) he deliberately avoided seeing Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X in the flesh. He had his first one-man show in New York at Durlacher Brothers in 1953 and his first in Paris, at the Galerie Rive Droite in 1957.
By 1957 Bacon’s painting was undergoing a transformation in handling and colour. That much became dazzlingly apparent at his exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in March that year. There he presented six paintings inspired by Van Gogh’s The Painter on the Route to Tarascon, 1888 (destroyed during the Second World War), including one painted the year before. The next three works were made in a tremendous hurry to meet the show’s deadline and the remaining two added sometime later. Necessity accelerated a process already in train; Bacon’s application of paint became coarser, his impasto thick and ridged, and his colours far more strident in range and hue. Van Gogh was one stimulus, the Céret works of Chaim Soutine and the fierce light of Morocco were two others. It was a decisive break with the ghostly forms and sombre backgrounds of the first half of the 1950s, and a permanent one.