In 1971, matters descended into farce when Dyer tried to frame his lover for possession of cannabis by hiding 2.1 grams of it in his studio. Bacon was acquitted at trial. The artist now set his sights on a retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, an honour exceptional for a living painter. Two nights before the opening of the show, and in cruel symmetry to Bacon’s experience at the opening of the Tate retrospective in 1962, Dyer was found dead from a drink and barbiturate overdose in a bathroom at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères. Bacon seemed to take the news with a strange detachment. A series of paintings made over the next few years record the true strength of his grief. These include the so-called black triptychs, such as In Memory of George Dyer, 1971, and Triptych August 1972. The bleakest and perhaps the greatest of these testaments is Triptych May-June 1973, a work of monumental and grave simplicity in which the circumstances of Dyer’s death are re-enacted.
Bacon spent considerable periods of time in Paris during the 1970s, and in 1974 bought a flat on rue de Birague, near the Place des Vosges. For the next decade and a half he was able to renew and deepen his friendships with Michel Leiris, Nadine Haim and Jacques Dupin. Bacon’s 1976 portrait of Surrealist author and critic Michel Leiris, a diminutive work of subtlety and insight, is among the finest he ever painted. The following year an important exhibition of his recent works was hosted at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris.
Bacon’s own recorded outlook on his life and work was first published in book form in 1975. Based on a series of interviews conducted with David Sylvester between 1962 and 1974, it was further expanded in 1980 and again in 1987. The interviews afforded Bacon an unusual degree of influence over the reception and discussion of his works. Annotated typescripts, found in the studio after his death, indicate that he even had a role in their editing. In his public utterances, Bacon placed heavy emphasis on the role of chance and accident in his work The evidence of the studio suggests that Bacon was a more deliberate artist than he cared to admit. He jotted down ideas for paintings in a cryptic and allusive style, frequently invoking the imperative as if the notes were exhortations. He outlined compositions in biro, paint and felt-tip on paper, over-painted and traced existing photographs to define and explore motifs. The photographs were sometimes of his own paintings and through these he sought to develop and improve works already out in the open. In the year that the interviews were first published, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, mounted an exhibition highlighting Bacon’s more recent works. The catalogue featured excerpts from recorded conversations with the American photographer, Peter Beard, who also sent the artist numerous and beautiful photographs of African wildlife. Among the 36 paintings exhibited at the show, George Dyer’s presence loomed heavily but Bacon, while prey to feelings of guilt, moved on. In the mid-1970s he met John Edwards, another good looking Eastender, then helping his brothers to manage three pubs. Bacon’s relationship with Edwards was essentially a paternal one and its stability was largely due to the self-possession and affability of the younger man.