Instead of out-and-out competition, Smee spends much of the book exposing the layers of uneasy friendship and intimacy that existed between the pairs—subtle moments that are often overlooked in the art historical narrative. “I just related to it; I think perhaps we all can, if there are people in our lives who we are seduced by and impressed by,” Smee said. “We're drawn to them—and if they're an artist, their way of looking at things—and that's a very intoxicating feeling. But at the same time, we are made conscious of things that may be lacking in ourselves, and again, if we’re artists, in our own artistic approach.”
Freud’s relationship with the older Bacon came early in his artistic career. Although he always painted portraits, initially these were crafted in a childlike, innocent manner. The smooth surfaces and wide eyes of Freud’s early subjects were miles away from the eventual fleshy, paint-heavy portraits that would go on to define his oeuvre. It was Bacon’s risk-taking, his loose, smeared paint and fascination with the space surrounding his sitters, that inspired the younger artist. Freud later said, “I think that Francis’s way of painting freely helped me feel more daring.” Bacon’s influence led the painter—considered by critics to be an excellent draftsman—to give up drawing completely for several years, resulting in a rapid shift in style that alienated many of his supporters. In fact, art historian Kenneth Clark, one of the artist’s early admirers, never spoke to Freud again.
Public rejection and disapproval often helped forge these artistic relationships. It wasn’t until the modern era that originality emerged as a factor in the way art was judged, a shift “that creates all sorts of problems,” Smee noted. “Once you value originality over so many other things, you lose hold of the criteria that used to exist to help us judge the quality of art. It affects the artists themselves in profound ways, because they’re suddenly unable to know for sure whether what they’ve just done is any good.”