Queer Saint comes out

Queer Saint: The Cultured Life of Peter Watson is out today in the UK.


Neil McKenna, author of The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde and Fanny & Stella

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.

Gorgeously 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 from 1920s Eton and Oxford to 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 Peter Watson 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, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud might have failed before they’d got started. Peter saved Lucian from his father's attempt to make him abandon painting and take a real job. Peter helped fund the artist's gambling habit in Monte Carlo, and together they organised Bacon's first retrospective exhibition at the ICA - an exhibition so sexually challenging it was raided by the police. (Read more about that incident.)

Peter 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 biography 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.


Brian Sewell

Buy Queer Saint:

Amazon.co.uk • Waterstones
Foyles • Blackwell’s
Wordery • iBooks

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017