LONDON - An exquisite drawing by Lucian Freud, believed to be the only double portrait of Freud and his first wife Kitty Garman, will be offered in London this November. It was given to his close friend Sonia Brownell, George Orwell’s second wife, who was almost certainly the inspiration for the character of Julia in Orwell’s masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. Sonia kept the drawing until her death and it has since passed down through her family. Here is an excerpt from the interview by The Guardian’s Mark Brown with Simon Hucker, Director of Modern & Post-War British Art at Sotheby’s.
LUCIAN FREUD, FLYDA AND ARVID, 1947. £600,000–800,000. MODERN & POST-WAR BRITISH ART, 17–18 NOVEMBER.
Mark Brown: Tell me a little about this work.
Simon Hucker: It was created at the moment where Kitty has become the love of Freud’s life and his muse. It’s similar to other portraits from the time – she had this fantastic thick, slightly frizzy hair and obviously these huge eyes, something all of Freud’s early lovers, wives, muses have, which he always accentuates. I don’t know of another drawing that has both Freud and Kitty in it and that brings a great psychological import to this work.
MB: What was Freud’s relationship with Sonia Orwell? Were they friends or something more?
SH: That’s a rumour that has swirled around, but William Feaver, the great Freud expert, has said that in his conversations with Lucian about her he never got the sense that there was more to it. They were definitely fantastic friends and when she was planning to take Orwell to a sanatorium in Switzerland, Freud was going to go to help, but George died just before they went.
Lucian and Sonia would have met through Cyril Connolly at Horizon, the magazine where she worked. They would have been part of the Soho and Fitzrovia drinking and literary set. Freud was also, of course, good friends with Francis Bacon and I suspect the three of them went out on the tiles – to the Gargoyle Club and places like that. Sonia remained great friends with Bacon throughout his life and was there with him when his lover George Dyer committed suicide on the eve of his retrospective in Paris.
MB: The fact that Freud gave a drawing of him and his wife to Sonia suggests they were friends rather than anything more?
SH: Exactly, but this is a great drawing, so it’s not like he gave her a scrap or an odd illustrated letter, so it shows how close they were. Maybe he’s making a play between Sonia and Kitty, two artists’ muses, who were not hugely dissimilar physically.
MB: When you first went to see the piece did you have any idea of what you were going to see?
SH: Not really. I just kept looking at it on the wall – it was too good to be true. It’s one of those moments you dream of: the fact that it’s Lucian and Kitty and it’s got everything you’d want from an early Freud drawing. I’ve not seen a drawn double-portrait of the couple and it relates to those amazing paintings of Kitty that he was doing in the late 1940s. The unique aspect is that it hasn’t been seen since 1948, it’s not in any of the books, beside one little catalogue. Nobody’s really known about it and it’s never been for up sale. It’s really off the radar, which is wonderful. It has been in Sonia Orwell’s family’s collection and I know it is something that was cherished by Sonia and by the family ever since.