Impressionist & Modern Art

A Shared Eye: Dressing Lucian Freud

By Emma Lawson

LONDON – "I work from the people that interest me, and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know." For an artist who worked from life, it’s perhaps no surprise that Lucian Freud chose to have his own clothes tailor made, from fittings taken in his own studio. From these meetings would come an elegant cashmere overcoat offering warmth without weight, and classic English suits in soft flannel, wool and worsteds, all made for him by Huntsman, bespoke tailors since 1849.


Climbing the stairs to the studio, taking in a work in progress, noticing "the wall beside the easel, thick with daubs of paint where he’d wipe his pallet knife", it was a memorable experience for Huntsman’s co-Head Cutter Dario Carnera. And one that had an unexpected overlap with his own craft.

"Mr Freud had an interest in the real body, not a manufactured view of it. He interpreted what real people look like. We see real bodies every day and each one is different," says Carnera. "We treat everyone as an individual. Like Mr Freud, we don’t make people look like something they’re not, instead we work to accentuate the positives."

The studio was where Freud felt most comfortable, where he could relax. And that’s what Carnera needed. Famously, the artist would spend hours there observing his sitters, telling the stories behind their gestures in increasingly physical, tactile portraits. Likewise, the cutter would read the artist’s movements, watching the way he held himself, scrutinising Freud as closely as the artist would his sitters.


"It’s very important that clothes are cut for your true posture," says Carnera, "so that when you’re moving around you look your best.” And as with every Huntsman client, Dario would be looking for and noting down the differences between left- and right-hand side, the slope of the shoulder, the balance front to back. “I’ve never met one customer who’s exactly symmetrical," he says. "We all favour one side and you have to take that into account when you watch someone’s movements."

Together, the artist and cutter would go through pattern books, Freud drawn by texture, the feel and flow of the cloth, how it would hang. Questions about where and when he would wear the garment would be answered, with comfort and practicality coming high on his list.

So high in fact, that Carnera would occasionally find paint smears on the artist’s suits: "I think sometimes he would suddenly be inspired, and just wanted to get an idea down on canvas."

Returning to Savile Row, Carnera would use the measurements as coordinates, then go by what his eyes told him, converting the paper pattern from two dimensions to three.

This close attention to the cut would make the first fitting easier. And Freud’s chosen fabrics helped the process too, malleable in the tailor’s hands to being shaped to the body’s nuances. With the occasional splodge of paint – the artist’s own.

Watch Treasures from Chatsworth, Presented by Huntsman at

For more information, visit


Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's