Although Procktor's son, Nicholas, escaped with minor burns and a few things were saved, the flat was destroyed. Despite frantic efforts a significant number of books, paintings, works of art and personal possessions (all uninsured) were abandoned to the flames. Procktor was left homeless and in effect, destitute.
That unfortunate event, fuelled by heavy drinking and a tendency towards self-destruction, marked the beginning of a rapid decline in an already shambolic and dysfunctional life; which included, bizarrely, a short spell on remand following allegations of attempted murder brought by his elderly mother. Patrick Procktor died in 2003 at the age of 67.
All this was a far cry from his glory days as an enfant terrible of the Sixties art scene. An instant star at the age of twenty-seven, Procktor, today, is largely forgotten (or at least underrated), certainly in the case of the wider public, perhaps less so in the company of fellow artists and canny collectors.
Yet in the drawing rooms of Swinging London, the former sub-lieutenant cut a dash with his flamboyant drawl, amber cigarette holder and roaring laugh. Cecil Beaton thought him 'an intellectual treat', the artist, Mark Vaux, 'twenty feet tall'. As famous then as his great friend and contemporary, David Hockney, both were hailed as two of the brightest stars in the artistic firmament- no mean feat for a generation that included Peter Blake and R. B. Kitaj.
Now two highly enjoyable- and thoughtful- shows, curated by art historian Ian Massey, give the public a chance to examine Procktor's work in a new light. Patrick Procktor: the Last Romantic (on view at the Arts University, Bournemouth) features a wide-ranging selection of Procktor's work including prints, painting, drawings and book illustrations. Pure Romance (at the Redfern Gallery) celebrates further examples of Procktor's work, amongst a wider selection of artists linked by a 'romantic sensibility'.
Fluent in Russian, Procktor was an artist of high intelligence; his work shows a sensitivity, elegance and lightness of touch. In the summer of 1967, Procktor holidayed in Italy with David Hockney and Peter Schlesinger. Hockney had brought along a box of watercolour paints, but quickly abandoned them in favour of colour crayon. Procktor took to them immediately, painting directly from life, and there began a love affair with the medium.
Procktor's subsequent mastery of watercolour- that most unfashionably tweedy and English of paints- shows confidence, economy and fluidity (witness the watery sea-side light of Lyme Regis), repeated in his later work as printmaker with accessible, yet refined, aquatints of Venice, China, Japan and Egypt (witness the simmering desert heat of the Old Cataract Hotel's terrace, Aswan).
But for admirers of the delicate watercolours and aquatints, Procktor's early work in oil, influenced no doubt by the likes of Keith Vaughan and Graham Sutherland, may come of something as a happy surprise, showing a remarkable command of 'colour, form and space'.
Procktor features again in the second of Ian Massey's two exhibitions. The Redfern Gallery's Pure Romance (taking its title from Procktor's intimate portrait of one-time lover and muse, Gervase Griffiths) presents a well chosen collection of paintings, drawings and photographs dating from the 1920s' to the present day, including work by Derek Jarman, Snowdon, Cecil Beaton, Alessandro Raho, Elizabeth Peyton and Christopher Wood; all connected by a romantic sensibility and influenced by a heady cocktail of ideas, styles and concepts: theatrical glamour, Hollywood, Diaghilev's ballets, homoeroticism, idyll, mythology and European Surrealism. Et in Arcadia Ego.
And as with the Procktor's best, Snowdon's haunting photographic portrait of Lady Diana Cooper (all fragile beauty and salmon-pink lace) shows a painterly understanding of both colour and light.
Following popular demand, both shows have been extended to the 3rd March.
Patrick Procktor: The Last Romantic, The Gallery, Arts University, Bournemouth, BH12 5HH. Exhibiton ends 3rd March 2016, Admission Free
Pure Romance, Art and the Romantic Sensibility, The Redfern Gallery, 20, Cork Street, London, W1S 3HL, Exhibition ends 3rd March 2016.
Patrick Procktor Art and Life by Ian Massey is published in hardback by the Unicorn Press.