Annalyn Swan is the former arts editor of Newsweek and an award-winning music critic. She has taught life-writing—biography and memoir—at the Graduate Center since 2014. A graduate of Princeton University and King’s College, Cambridge University, she has co-authored two biographies of artists with her husband, the art critic Mark Stevens. The first, de Kooning: An American Master, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, It also won the National Book Critics Circle award and was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times. Listen here to their NPR interview from December 2004.
Their second collaboration, Francis Bacon: Revelations was published in March 2021 and named the Times of London's 2021 art book of the year. Over a decade in the making, this is a much-anticipated comprehensive look at the life and art of one of the iconic painters of the twentieth century. Here are excerpts from just a few of the stellar reviews:
“There are not many biographical masterpieces, but in Revelations, the life of the Irish-born painter Francis Bacon, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan have produced one…an utterly thrilling read.” -- Irish Times, John Banville
“With Revelations...Annalyn Swan and Mark Stevens... enter the fray, offering the most comprehensive study of one of the leading figures of modernism, someone whose “paradoxical pop gravitas” places him with the likes of Beckett, Camus, and Sartre. In some 800 pages of text and footnotes, the authors—aided by the artist’s estate—detail the trajectory of Bacon’s career with archaeological precision, excavating public and private records to unearth how the openly homosexual painter, “preternaturally attuned to the social stage,” crafted a rebellious public persona characterized by excesses of sex and violence, drink and drugs...The authors are adept at contextualizing Bacon’s artistic development within the story of his romances and exploits and go to great lengths to correct the record, dispelling errant mythologies (often propagated by Bacon himself). ” --Tausif Noor, The Nation
“Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan have produced a biography that no Bacon fan—or indeed foe—can afford to overlook. . . . Where this biography soars above rivals is where its authors, even while acknowledging the crafted performance, probe beneath the façade. . . . This book’s true “revelation” is Bacon in all his mysterious complexity. . . . This is not a portrait of a myth. It is the story of a man. And when it comes to the figure of Francis Bacon, a biography that can make manifest this intrinsic paradox must surely count as definitive.” --Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times (UK)
“.Until now, the best books about Bacon have been the work of his friends: volumes that, however interesting, are muddied with affection (or its reverse), vested interests and, perhaps, a certain complacency. This volume, though, is the opposite. It rings as clearly as a bell. I cannot remember the last time I was so aware of the sheer hard labour involved in biography, even as I was captivated by every line. . . . The authors are diligent about the shows, the critics, the mentors. . . . But where they really triumph is in their sympathetic, psychologically convincing accounts of his love life. . . . This book’s great achievement is that it does not confuse flexibility in the matter of relationships with insincerity, nor ravenous desire with decadence. Bacon, you come to understand, was fundamentally serious, and fundamentally loving. If his heart was often on the hustle, it was also ardent: as twisted and as fervent as his art.” --Rachel Cooke, The Observer
“Francis Bacon is the most comprehensive and detailed account of [the artist’s] life, and one that topples central pillars of the Bacon myth. . . . The book makes use of one splendid improvisation of its own. At the end of each chapter, there is a close reading of one painting. . . . Instead of embedding such sections into the life [. . .] the work is cordoned off by a little white space. The space is just a line or two, but it makes an argument against automatically using the art to read the life or the other way around. In a book of such ambition and scope, it is finally—and fittingly, for an artist so private about his work—the modesty of this claim, of what can be known, that is its most moving achievement.” --Parul Sehgal, The New York Times