Two extracts from the article Darling Patrick, published in Luncheon magazine, March 2016.
In one of the rooms of Patrick Procktor’s Marylebone flat a wall was decorated in flowers. Each flower was drawn or painted directly onto the pink-washed wall by one of the artist’s friends as a kind of equivalent to a signature in a visitors’ book. There was a rose by Cecil Beaton and tulips by David Hockney and Frank Auerbach. Among other contributions were blooms by Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark, Mario Dubsky, RB Kitaj and Peter Schlesinger. Procktor had acquired the lease for 26 Manchester Street in 1963 with proceeds from his first exhibition at the Redfern Gallery. The show had opened to great critical acclaim and commercial success that spring, making Procktor one of the most sought-after artists in London. His former art master the painter Kyffin Williams, who had taught him at Highgate School, recalled:‘I was absolutely amazed… It was as if a sort of wonderful butterfly had emerged from a cocoon. He became after that exhibition one of the best-known young painters in Britain.’
Along with his obvious talent Procktor was charismatic, witty, hugely intelligent and physically imposing; six-foot-five, with blond curls and an aquiline profile. Celia Birtwell remembered him at parties:‘always looking fantastic, always wearing really clever, interesting slightly Eastern clothes which looked marvellous on that tall, slender figure… He would sometimes wear a fez and peer down at you with that Giacometti head of his.’
He had a gift for friendship and a wide social circle and the Manchester Street flat became a stage set in which he gave free rein to his theatrical personality. Visitors to his regular tea parties included Princess Margaret, Stephen Spender, Derek Jarman, Kaffe Fassett and Gilbert and George. Procktor had his studio at home and often made watercolour portraits of friends as they posed for him on the large green sofa in his sitting room. He also made commissioned portraits at the flat; including one of Joe Orton for the Royal Court Theatre in 1967. Notorious in its day, the drawing shows the playwright reclining on a daybed in nothing but white socks (it subsequently entered the collection of the National Portrait Gallery). Five years later John Osborne asked the artist to paint his wife the actor Jill Bennett. Procktor painted her in oil on canvas – dressed in red Jean Muir and a rope of pearls, elongated to the nth degree – in one of his most renowned mannerist portraits.
Peter Langan opened his eponymous Brasserie in the former premises of the restaurant Coq d’Or off Piccadilly in September 1976. Langan drank heavily – ‘I am known as the horizontal restaurateur’ he later wrote – and was infamous for regaling female customers with crude sexual banter. But he also had taste and an informed love of art and he cannily courted artists, exchanging their work for food in an arrangement in which they would ‘eat down’ the price of their pictures in meals. Amongst Langan’s artist friends, Procktor and Hockney became especially synonymous with his business: their paintings far outnumbered those of others on the restaurant walls and they dined there regularly, the glamour of their association providing an invaluable cachet. Each drew menu designs, emphasizing the relationship between artist and proprietor. Langan’s Brasserie became London’s most fashionable restaurant, with Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Marlon Brando amongst its famous clientele. In 1979 Langan commissioned Procktor to paint murals for his upstairs dining room. The theme was Venice; a subject strongly associated with the artist who had often visited and painted there from the early 1970s. Completed within a month or so, the result was a beautifully sustained panorama covering the four walls of the room. Langan had asked for Venice in winter but was given high summer: photographs taken upon completion show the mural before Langan had layers of varnish applied to tone it down. Procktor, wounded, explained that the great Venetian painters of the 16th century had also used bright colours, which had then faded over time. Despite this, the varnish did little to detract from the mural’s accomplishment and popularity. After years of subjection to food, wine and nicotine, in 2012 the varnish was removed from the murals and their initial freshness restored. However, a year later the murals were removed and are now in storage, their future uncertain. As for Procktor’s flat on Manchester Street, it was severely damaged by fire in 1999, probably by the now severely alcoholic artist accidentally dropping a lit cigarette. Although there were no human casualties the fire was so intense that it burnt the plaster from the walls. The wall of flowers exists now only as tantalizing glimpses in a handful of period photographs.
© Ian Massey 2016.
The full article can be read in Luncheon magazine, No. 1, Spring 2016.
The photograph here shows pages from the magazine, with Patrick Procktor's watercolour Tunisian Vest (1969) illustrated. The magazine cover photograph is by Sølve Sundsbø.