The Hermit of Holland Park


Lucian Freud. Photo: Cecil Beaton

 

The story, as reported, went something like this:

When Lucian Freud’s relationship
with his former nude model and muse Emily Bearn
was on the rocks,
he paid a late-night visit
to the £500,000 house in West London
that he was assumed
to have bought for her.

“Lucian came striding down the pavement
looking very angry,”
a neighbor recalled.
“Emily wouldn’t let him in
and he started kicking the door and shouting.
He was making a lot of noise.”

There is nothing so remarkable
about that story of parting lovers,
apart from one aspect:
Bearn was 29
and Freud was 80.

 

1950sFreud-Deakin

 

Hence my introduction to Lucian Freud, not as the celebrated painter the world over known as a reclusive creator of the world’s most expensive painting by a living artist, or the man frequently described as Britain’s greatest living painter, although not by those who were outraged at his notorious “five o’clock shadow” portrait of the Queen, but as this irascible octogenarian and late-night lothario making a nuisance of himself running through the streets of London.

Moreover, I had contributed in my own small way to enlarging his fame by posting an account of his exhibit “Stripped Bare” held at the Modern in 2007 and deemed as one of the praiseworthy exhibits of the season.

 


Lucian Freud. Photo: Clifford Cotton

 

What was it exactly that brought this complicated artist back into my psyche? While I certainly appreciated his mastery of the human form, I hadn’t made a point of delving into his life until the other night when I was reading this enchanting little book entitled My Judy Garland Life written by an unknown writer and first time author, Susie Boyt. As I was reading her lilting prose describing her obsession with the fabled songstress, she casually mentioned her great grandfather, the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, and, in turn, her father, the illustrious painter, Lucian.

What a remarkable, but somewhat troubling family, I thought as her accounts of her father deemed him absent, distant, rarely there in the telling of her warmly scripted tale of unrestrained devotion and childish ardor to one of the greatest entertainers of the twentieth century.

 

396px-LucienFreud

 

As I quickly learned it was no small wonder her famous father failed to make patriarchal appearances. You see, Mr. Freud is rumored to have 40 children (an exaggeration we are told) to a number of different, and only too willing, paramours, yet there is no dispute on his legendary appetite for much younger women and at a spry 88, one might suspect they are all younger

 

lucienfreud_seflfportraitLucien Freud, Reflection (self portrait), 1985

 

Yet, like most celebrated for their genius, the gossipy mystique can be tiresome. Oddly enough, something similar developed around Balthus, another reclusive painter of the old school who, like Freud, developed an aristocratic persona. He, too, had the best possible taste and a secretive erotic air. And yet in the case of these two painters, there is also something telling about the fascination with their lives, for the work of both appears steeped in hidden narratives.

 


Lucien Freud, Reflection (self portrait), 2002

 

“The achievement of the strenuously lionized British realist painter Lucian Freud,” writes Roberta Smith, “has not so much been to break new ground as to dig incessantly deeper into the old. By doing so he has intensified our understanding of figurative painting’s familiar landmarks to the point of discomfort.”

 

 

 

A brief tutorial

Freud’s early paintings like The Painter’s Room (1944) above are often associated with surrealism, depicting people, plants and animals in unusual juxtapositions. These works are usually painted with relatively thin paint, but from the 1950s he began to paint portraits, often nudes, to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, employing a thicker impasto. With this technique he would often clean his brush after each stroke.

 

 

It is well known that Freud has a conception of life that embraces the human and the animal as two aspects of the same thing. Some of his most memorable pictures are of people and animals – generally their owners – together. Girl with a White Dog, for example.

Girl with a white dog, 1951 – 1952, Tate Gallery. The subject is Freud’s first wife, Kitty (Kathleen) Garman, the daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein and Kathleen Garman.

 

 

In the wonderful Double Portrait (1985-86) paws and hands, whippet legs and forearms, the dog’s and the woman’s noses are juxtaposed in an intimate, rhyming mesh. All of those paintings have a powerful sense of shared existence at least as close as his all-human couples.

 

lucian-freud-ib-and-her-husband

 

Freud’s subjects are often the people in his life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. To quote the artist: “The subject matter is autobiographical, it’s all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really.”

Painted in 1992 and sold for $11.4 million by Christie’s New York in November 2007, presents Freud’s daughter Isobel Boyt in her husband’s arms, sprawled on a grim bed, appearing to be asleep.

 

 

Two of Lucian Freud’s daughters: London fashion designer Bella and Writer Esther.

 

lucian-freud-bruce-bernard

 

‘Bruce Bernard’ is another painting sold by the Christie’s London in June 2007 for $15.5 million. Bernard was the picture editor of the Sunday Times magazine from 1972 to 1980 and later became the visual arts editor of the Saturday Independent Magazine.

Friends with Freud since 1942, Bernard declined to sit for his portrait for many years and only changed his mind upon hearing that Freud’s “working speed had appreciably increased.”

 


Leigh on a Green Sofa, 1993

 

“I remember
Francis Bacon would say
that he felt
he was giving art
what he thought
it previously lacked.

With me,
it’s what Yeats called
the fascination
with what’s difficult.
I’m only trying
to do
what I can’t do.”

Lucian Freud

 


Lying by the Rags 1989-1990

 

“Those who dislike his art

see his oeuvre

as the meat locker

of a misogynist.

They are wrong.”

Mark Stevens

 

“Best known for his fierce depiction of the flesh, he seems to strip his nudes physically and psychically, presenting them in awkward poses and an unforgiving light. Sometimes, they sprawl about with animals or are enormously fat. Those who dislike Freud’s art consider his oeuvre the meat locker of a misogynist. They are wrong. The nudes have an unpeeled power that’s like nothing else in art. But there is indeed something harsh about the contract he establishes in such pictures between artist and subject. Freud seems to have all the power—and asserts it. His compositions are elegant, his subjects ungainly. His brush dances, their bodies lie supine. His surface glows, their flesh decays. His eye is spirited, theirs appears defeated. He lords it over the nudes.”

Review, NY Times Magazine, 2004

 

In a future post, a few thoughts on muses, particularly those of Lucien Freud’s, and his most celebrated painting of one that sold for an astonishing $33.6 million in 2008, setting a world record for sale value of a painting by a living artist.

 

One of EA’s readers thoughtfully took the time to trace the poem ‘The Fascination of What’s Difficult’ by Yeats that Freud cited above. My thanks to jane at thenearnessofdistance.blogspot.com.

The Fascination of What’s Difficult

The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

 

 

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~ by eaesthete on 01/18/10.

13 Responses to “The Hermit of Holland Park”

  1. I love Freud’s work in all its discomfort. He’s a master.

  2. oh thank for this post!

  3. Another simply boffo post!!

  4. Splendiferously researched photographs. I’ll always remember seeing him photographed with his pet fox…an aspiration of mine still to take shape

  5. Fascinating! oh what a delightful post!

  6. The rhythm in Girl with White dog is striking, indeed emphasizing the human-animal-savage theme. The woman’s white face bends in the same way of her animal counterpart; her eyes follow the same sight line.

    For a moment, I glimpsed the she wolf of Rome, who suckled the young Romulus and Remus. She gives sustenance to both beast and man.

    By the way, can I subscribe through a reader? It seems that I have to enter my email, which I would prefer not to?

    • Lydia,

      Thank you for that most insightful comment. One of the things I discovered in doing this post was that the artist specifically had the owner pose with the animal as that was the individual the animal was most comfortable with. Hence, they could lay still for hours in complete contentment. The exposed breast certainly lends credence to the she wolf of Rome.

      Apologetically, I’m somewhat technologically challenged and had this RSS configuration set up by one more knowledgeable than myself. I will look into seeing if
      I can have it reconfigured. I do understand your hesitation.

  7. ps…the poem by yeats:
    The Fascination of What’s Difficult

    The fascination of what’s difficult
    Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
    Spontaneous joy and natural content
    Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
    That must, as if it had not holy blood
    Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
    Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
    As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
    That have to be set up in fifty ways,
    On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
    Theatre business, management of men.
    I swear before the dawn comes round again
    I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

  8. Well, I’m not too hesitant to take the plunge and subscribe via email. I look forward to more from you.

    As a side note, my forays into craft have helped me profoundly. I know understand what it is like (other than through the word) to see something come together or fall apart by one’s own hand. It’s horrific, intriguing, and beautiful.

  9. Oh, and Madame EA – rings like Madame X, no? – tell me what you think about the flaneur. I have been known, a time or two, to call myself a flaneuse, the strikingly powerful mother of the flaneur.

    • Aren’t you the ultimate wordsmith? I’ve not thought of a flaneur in the longest of times, but am charmed by the thought of assuming the title of a flaneuse. Sounds so deliciously chic. I think an entire post could be done on this word.

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