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Peter Beard
Via Wikimedia Commons

Photographer and Francis Bacon muse Peter Beard has died

The New York-born artist, diarist, and Studio 54 regular was renowned for his wildlife imagery, which documented man-made destruction in Africa

Famed photographer Peter Beard, who was renowned for his wildlife imagery, has been found dead aged 82. The artist, diarist, and writer had been suffering from dementia, and had been missing for almost three weeks.

A statement released by his family reads: “We are all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death. Peter was an extraordinary man who led an exceptional life. He was relentless in his passion for nature. Always insatiably curious, he pursued his passions without restraints and perceived reality through a unique lens.”

“Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and his energy. He was a pioneering contemporary artist, who was decades ahead of his time in his efforts to sound the alarm about environmental damage.”

Born and raised in New York, Beard became embedded in the city’s art scene. After graduating from Yale University in 1961, Beard traveled to Kenya, where he documented the destruction of animals and elephants in the country’s Tsavo National Park for his first book, The End of the Game (1965). 

Beard’s work often combined photography with elements from his daily diary-keeping, including newspaper clippings, dried leaves, insects, and quotes. His first exhibition was held at New York’s Blum Helman Gallery in 1975, though the artist has gone on to have a number of exhibitions around the world, including at the Centre national de la photographie in Paris in 1997, as well as in Berlin, London, Tokyo, and more.

In September 1996, Beard was charged at by an elephant, whose tusk pierced his leg. The attack also left the photographer with broken ribs and a fractured pelvis, and by the time he arrived at the hospital, he had no pulse. Despite temporarily losing his sight and being told he’d never walk again, Beard regained both, and didn’t let the resulting 24 pins in his pelvis impact his ability to party.

The photographer was famed as much for his work as his wild social life; filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson – who collaborated with Beard on That Summer, a film in which Beard is also the subject – told Another Man: “He had a physique from hell: he could party for weeks and still look good and be happy.” Beard was a frequent visitor of Studio 54, and boasted the likes of Franics BaconAndy WarholSalvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso as his friends. Beard once said of his friendship with Dalí: “I was exhilarated when I lucked into a friendship with him. He was the idea man of all time. He kept insisting, weirdly enough, that I was his dead brother.”

Bacon regarded Beard as a muse of his, painting between 20 and 25 portraits of the photographer, including “Three Studies for a Portrait of Peter Beard” (1975). Beard also shot Bacon for his own portraits, once saying: “I’m the one person, by the way, who Bacon ever let photograph his work in progress. I shot a painting of his called ‘The Last Man on Earth’, which he then went and ruined that same night – he came home pickled, and painted over it.” 

Despite initially thinking Warhol was “a freak” because “he was dressed in all leather” and “was very white and slightly scary”, the pair became friends, working on collages together. Beard’s Polaroid of Warhol, called “Andy Warhol at Home in Montauk” (1972), sold for £16,250 in 2018.

The photographer was the subject of a 2013 NOWNESS film by Derek Peck, which you can watch above. Beard is survived by his wife, daughter, granddaughter, and two brothers.