PROPERTY FROM THE FAMILY OF STEPHEN SPENDER
The following five lots offer a remarkable insight and dialogue into the relationship between three of Britain’s foremost members of the artistic community of the twentieth century; the poet and critic Stephen Spender and the artists Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach,
In lots 201 –204, a remarkable collection of letters is revealed for the very first time, having remained in the Spender family’s possession for the last seventy years. Written when Lucian Freud was still in his teens to Stephen Spender, they capture a fascinating insight into their relationship. The Freud and Spender family were well known to each other; living in the same building at Maresfield Gardens in North London. Freud wrote these letters in a period between 1939-1941 when the young Freud was studying under the tutelage of Cedric Morris at of East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham, Essex. Despite a thirteen year age gap, Freud and Spender remained close and during the first winter of World War II, Spender joined Freud down in Capel Curig in Wales, where Freud was renting a room in a retired miner’s house with a friend from art school, David Kentish. Freud spent his days painting, his evenings drawing by lamplight. Spender and Freud also collaborated on compiling an album of private jokes, the odd poem by Spender and numerous drawings by Freud. They called it “The Freud-Schuster Book”, parodying a fictitious firm of Jewish solicitors. Freud made many drawings and about twenty likenesses of Spender at Capel Curig. The letters from Freud to Spender written after this trip demonstrate the same qualities; most notably similar drawings and Freud’s wit and are clearly visable in lots 203 and 204. Writing to ‘Spethan’, ‘Schuster’ or ‘Step-hanio’ and signing off ‘Lucelli’ or ‘Lucionus Fruitata’ they evidence the artist’s demotic spirit running through all the Welsh drawings. The private, running jokes of which Freud actually incorporated into his drawings are all present in these letters alongside humorous verse and irrational, preposterous scenarios. However in lot 201 Freud writes to Spender with great excitement about a very real scenario; ‘Cedric has painted a portrait of me which is exactly like my face is green, it is a marvellous picture.’ Freud is referring to Cedric Morris’ painting from 1941 which now hangs in the Tate, London. Not only does Freud write with great excitement about this the drawing of the young man in the letter is undoubtedly a reference to this and thus a very early self-portrait.
In 1940, Freud painted Spender in one of his first works on canvas which was significantly published in Horizon magazine which was set up by Spender, Peter Watson and Cyril Connolly. For a young artist, not even out of his teens this was a hugely significant opportunity. Freud remained friends with Spender for some years later (he also painted his portrait in 1957), until the relationship, as was often the case with Freud, diminished. This remarkable collection of letters and drawings though, never before seen, capture the importance of the relationship that was so key to Freud in the early part of his life.
Aside from Freud, Spender’s artistic circle of friends included Frank Auerbach. Study for a Reclining Nude (lot 205), is an exquisite, jewel-like painting rich in thick impasto and encapsulates Auerbach’s iconic practice. According to the artist, Spender was one of the first ‘strangers’ to acquire one of his worsk. The artist recalled ‘I met Spender once, I expected a poet with a vocation but I found a civilised man, gregarious, leading a varied, entertaining, virtuous life” (the artist quoted in: Jackie Wullschlager, ‘Lunch with the FT: Frank Auerbach’, The Financial Times, 6 October 2012). Indeed he was not just a poet but also a critic and Spender’s admiration for Auerbach was broadcast in his writing, notably in the foreword to the exhibition of new work at Marlborough Gallery in 1982. Alongside the present work Spender also the exceptional work on paper Head of Gerda Boehm from 1961 (to be offered in Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 1 July 2015).
The following five lots offer a unique opportunity to acquire an insight into this remarkable relationship between these three artistic greats