The 1970s began with a tragedy. Two nights before the opening of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971, George Dyer, who had accompanied his friend to the event, died from a drug and alcohol overdose in his hotel room. During the following years Bacon painted a group of ‘Black Triptychs’, such as Triptych, May—June, 1973, to express his grief and to commemorate his friend. Even though he was not always named, Dyer continued to appear in numerous paintings thereafter.
Bacon began to paint self-portraits obsessively, because ‘people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint.’ Perhaps for the aging artist self-portraits offered a way to confront his own mortality, too. In some of them, as for example in Self-Portrait, 1973, the prominent wristwatch is a poignant reminder of the passage of time.
However, new people to paint were soon to be found. Bacon had already met Peter Beard, an acclaimed fashion and wildlife photographer, in the mid-1960s but the likeness of the handsome young man only appears in Bacon’s oeuvre from 1975 onwards. In 1976 Bacon befriended John Edwards and painted him frequently from then on.
The process of simplifying the settings for his figures had already started during the 1960s when the so-called ‘space frames’—linear rectangular constructs—evolved into highly abstracted, stylised interiors. This process continued during the 1970s, until often only allusions to spatial settings remained, such as the railing in Triptych—Studies from the Human Body, 1970, which accommodates three nudes in an otherwise undefined space.
Bacon had briefly experimented with landscape painting in the 1950s and revisited the genre by the end of the 1970s. Works such as Landscape, 1978, are unusual for their lack of a human or animal figure. Landscapes occasionally appeared over the following years but remained an exception in Bacon’s oeuvre.