Author(s): Adrian Clark
When Peter Watson was murdered in his bath by a jealous boyfriend in 1956, the art world lost one of its wealthiest, most influential patrons. This compellingly attractive man, adored by Cecil Beaton; a man who was called a legend by contemporaries, who was the subject of two scandalous novels, and who helped launch the careers of Francis Bacon, John Craxton and Lucian Freud, fell victim to a fortune-hungry lover. Elegant and hungrily sexual, Peter Watson had a taste for edgy, disreputable boyfriends. He was the unrequited love of Cecil Beaton's life - his 'queer saint' - but Peter preferred the risk of edgier, less sophisticated lovers, including the beautiful, volatile, drug-addicted prostitute Denham Fouts. Peter's thirst for adventure took him through the cabaret culture of 1930s Berlin, the demi-monde and aristocratic salons of pre-war Paris, English high society, and the glitz of Hollywood's golden age. Gore Vidal described him as 'a charming man, tall, thin, perverse. One of those intricate English queer types who usually end up as field marshals, but because he was so rich he never had to do anything.' Truman Capote called him 'not just another rich queen, but - in a stooped, intellectual, bitter-lipped style - one of the most personable men in England'. More than just a gay playboy, Peter Watson was a renowned connoisseur, and fuelled the engine of mid-20th century art with his enormous wealth. Without his patronage, Bacon and Freud might have failed before they'd got started. He also founded the influential British arts journal Horizon with Cyril Connolly and Stephen Spender, and was one of the core founders of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and organised most of its early exhibitions. From the mystery of his obscure family origins to the enigma surrounding his premature death, this book follows Peter Watson through an odyssey of the middle 20th century, from high society to sweaty underworld, and discovers a man tormented by depression and doubt; he ultimately wanted love and a sense of self-worth but instead found angst and a squalid death.
Adrian Clark is an independent art historian who writes about 20th century British and Irish art. He has published a book and numerous articles and reviews on the subject and recently co-authored the catalogue for a show of The Roberts at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. He is currently collaborating with the ICA with regard to their celebration of Francis Bacon's first ever retrospective, organised by Watson at the ICA in 1955. Jeremy Dronfield is a novelist and historical biographer, 'a gifted, original writer' (Sunday Telegraph). Among his many books are a biography of the Russian spy Moura Budberg and the critically acclaimed novel The Alchemist's Apprentice, described as a 'captivating metaphysical mystery and an otherworldly love story' by the Sunday Times.