Being short of money, the young Lucian Freud had no hesitation in asking for an advance from Princess Marie, whom he knew quite well. Well enough to know that she was financially vague. ('What would you like? Five francs? Or would a thousand do?') His fee was to have been fifty or sixty pounds. However he, she and the publisher did not see eye to eye on what would grace a tale with a spiritual throb to it. 'Princess Marie had no visual sense and Rodker found the drawings offensive,' Freud told me. The commission was aborted and Rodker employed instead John Buckland Wright, a reliable illustrator, who produced twelve inoffensive colour lithographs. Eventually the book appeared, initially in an edition of thirty copies on hand made paper and then for a slightly wider public in 1951.
Rodker’s rejection was not unreasonable given that the drawings were too sharp - and good - for the text. 'They were, oddly enough, influenced by being in Greece,' Freud said. They reflected his experience of a five-month stay in 1946-7 on the island of Poros where he had been excited by the austerity there and by the quality of the light. Greek light denies distances and here, in Flyda and Arvid (as in other drawings relating to the ‘Flyda’ project) clarity is all. With line reproduction in mind, he stippled for half tone and accentuated shadow with dense crosshatching.
So forget the book. Here we have Kitty Garman, who was to become Freud’s first wife and whom he had painted devotedly from early 1947 as Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947, Private Collection), Girl with a Kitten (Fig.1, 1947, Tate) and Girl with Roses (1947-8, British Council Collection) looming in close-up with plucked eyebrows and unruly split ends: more screen goddess than sea maiden. As for him, he’s the face in the mirror edging in as though checking on a defaulter, much as he had done in his Poros painting Man with a Thistle (Self Portrait) (Fig.2,1946, Tate, London). Some months later he painted her again (Kitty, 1948-9, Garman Ryan Collection, Walsall) in profile but with her hair cropped and the shutters of the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche closed behind her against the midday sun. Flyda and Arvid also prefigures Hotel Bedroom (1954, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick) in which Freud’s second wife, Caroline Blackwood, lies in bed morosely sucking a little finger and he stands behind her watchful as ever.
Freud often talked about the difficulties of accommodating two figures in a picture or, rather, the need for both figures to connect to the awareness of the painter: Flyda and Arvid spells out the contrivance involved. This drawing is also remarkable for its containment. Kitty is so placed that she looks straight past the artist, between him and his reflection. She could be blanking him but that of course is his decision and his doing. Twinges of colour, rubbed in are faintly visible: pink and yellow and a blue band of sea beyond, these being his only softening in attitude. More truly than perhaps Princess Marie or the vexed publisher could have appreciated, he drew here a fairy tale for grown-ups.
William Feaver, London, September 2015
Sonia Brownell (1918-1980) was almost certainly the model for Julia, the heroine of George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984, whose fearlessness electrifies the novel’s protagonist Winston Smith: 'the girl from the fiction department was looking at him… she was very young, he thought, she still expected something from life…she would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated…’.
Sonia had met Orwell a few years before through Cyril Connolly, for whom she worked on the hugely influential literary and artistic journal Horizon. They married in October 1949, just three months before Orwell died of tuberculosis and in the years that followed, Sonia became a doughty defender of his literary estate and, with Ian Angus, edited his Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Unfairly characterised by some of Orwell’s biographers as a ‘gold-digger,' she in fact lived on the small allowance doled out to her by his accountant, who even took control of Sonia’s own earnings from her writing and editing. She died virtually destitute, having spent all she had to regain control of Orwell’s copyright, so she could pass it to his son.
Sonia would have first encountered Lucian Freud at Horizon, where he worked as a teenage office-boy, albeit one so prodigiously talented that the magazine published one of his drawings in 1940, when he was aged just 17. Brownell was certainly Freud's type: beautiful, intelligent and intense. Part of the same Soho and Fitzrovia-based demi-monde, Sonia and Lucian were close during the late 40s, forming a formidable trio with Francis Bacon on late night visits to the Gargoyle Club. It was Freud who was on standby to help her fly Orwell to a Swiss sanatorium had he not died a few days before. Later, though, they were to fall out: Sonia's devotion and attention to the ins and outs of her friends’ lives, something Bacon loved about her, would wear on Freud’s need for a certain distance. He would have given her Flyda & Arvid long before this drifting apart though, most likely some time in 1947 or 1948. As a gift it couldn't have been more suitable for the ‘girl from the fiction department’ – an image created initially for a book, but one that crackles with the emotional intensity between an artist and muse, a relationship Sonia, ‘The Euston Road Venus’, knew all too well and the theme that Freud himself was to explore in his art for the next 60 years.
It says something of how much this beautiful drawing meant to her – as well as speaking volumes for her famed loyalty as a friend – that despite her dire financial needs later in life, Sonia never once thought of selling Flyda and Arvid.
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