L ucian Freud first experimented with etching as a student in the 1940s and did not revisit the medium until the age of 60, when he had already achieved almost all an artist could. Two of the works produced at this advanced stage, Pluto Aged Twelve (Figura 91), 2000 and Garden in Winter (F. 97) 1997-99, will be offered in Sotheby’s upcoming Made in Britain sale, taking place on the 20 of March.
Although Freud is primarily known as a figurative painter, his subjects also included animals and plants. Freud emphasized that his work was purely autobiographical and that ‘the subject matter has always been dictated by the way my life has gone. I noticed when I was under particular strain; I didn’t feel so like staring at bodies all day. I preferred working in complete isolation.’ (Figura, Lucian Freud, The Painter's Etchings, p. 32)
Freud’s tender and affectionate depictions of animals and nature stand in stark contrast to his scrutinizing and intense paintings of people. Freud’s beloved whippet is the center of attention in Pluto Aged Twelve. After acquiring the pup in 1988, he went on to depict her numerously until her demise in 2003. In this etching, he used precise lines to convey texture in the dog and hand. The latter is an interesting characteristic of the work as it enters the composition diagonally from the upper right, reminiscent of God and Adam’s fingers in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
During periods of seclusion, Freud would spend time in his Holland Park house, concentrating on portraying his surroundings rather than people. These reclusive phases led to the production of works such as Garden in Winter. This was his first large-scale etching of an outdoor scene, which took two winters to complete. The plate is worked in great detail from edge to edge. Freud worked closely with his master printer Marc Balakjian to practice such technical, difficult processes. Once completed, the plate was printed with varied tone, except for the center of the composition, where a lighter section represents the light coming in through the trees.
These two stunning etchings are proof of Freud’s rediscovery and mastery of the medium. These are especially remarkable works, as they move away from his more traditional subjects and offer the viewer a glimpse inside artist’s mind.