Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
“The pictures that Freud began when he was forty were a drastic reversal of what was expected of him. Many were nearly twice life-size, and looked bigger; a powerful momentum ran through the paint streaking it coarsely … The brush comes sweeping down, zig-zagging across the canvas, encompassing the solidity as it loops to and fro. It describes great churning curves which make the form, recreate the pose and impulsively enact, as it seems, the expression. One feels in the paint how genial, how affectionate the sitter was … Boldly brushed and yet consistently responsive and perceptive – finding and losing, then finding again, the axes of shape, temperament and expression together, and identifying for them the intimate colour which a head secretes. From this time onwards a beautifully drawn head by Lucian Freud shows the balance of asymmetries in which personality, emotion and private history recreate themselves before our eyes.” (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, pp. 135-136)
The early 1960’s was a period of huge importance for Lucian Freud, in which he discovered fresh European influences and started to develop his distinctive, mature style of impasto realism, moving away from the precise, linear clarity of his earlier portraits to explore the expressive, sculptural properties of paint. A Painter, Redheaded Man No. II is an outstanding portrait from this crucial formative period depicting the head of Tim Behrens, who also appears in another major painting from this period, Red Haired Man on a Chair (1962-3) (see Fig. 1). In the same year as this painting was executed, Behrens featured to the far left of the renowned image of the School of London artists in Wheeler’s restaurant, sitting next to Freud (see page 13 of this catalogue). A former Slade student, Behrens was clearly a close friend of the artist, as this intimate larger-than-life portrait indicates, every movement and facial detail painstakingly rendered in thick, expressive marks and colourful tones. Each painterly gesture of his brush has a distinct form and emphasis of its own, creating an almost sculptural monumentality and depth to produce a living, vibrant image that glows with physical and psychological insight. The sharp accents and deft emphases of colour manifest living flesh with gestural ease, removing the flatness of the picture surface and replacing it with a topographical account of the sitter’s expressive face. Typical of the finest works from this period, A Painter, Redheaded Man No. II sees Freud using his brush like a sculptor modelling a bust, emphasising the three dimensionality of the painting and endowing it with a distinct character and space of its own.
This moment was critical for Freud. As he recalls in an interview, “I had stopped drawing and worked with bigger brushes, hog-hair instead of sable.” (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p. 132) The change of technique at the beginning of the 1960s liberated him to transform other important stylistic aspects of his work: notably size and scale, tempo and momentum, even the subject and character of the paint itself. Importantly this decision followed several trips to Europe in the summer of 1962 to see specific paintings. During this time Freud experienced and ingested the energy of Frans Hals’ painterly brushwork in a Haarlem exhibition of his work in the summer of 1962, the shocking brutality of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece at Colmar in Alsace, and the ‘shamelessness’ of Gustave Courbet’s realism in his works at Montpellier. All of these artists were to have a profound effect on his maturing directness of vision and technical virtuosity. In the context of the present work, however, Hals in particular would appear to have attuned Freud to the elastic vigour of form and the effects he could gain from using stiff bristled brushes. This expressive and painterly sense of controlled chaos recalls the factura of the Flemish master, and was accompanied by a shift towards the three-dimensional, towards Freud’s desire to get beneath the skin to record the muscles and tendons which shaped it.
On returning to London, Freud was forced to relocate as demolition gangs advanced along Delamere Terrace, destroying his familiar studio surroundings. His new temporary premises were nearby on Clarendon Crescent, painting in “a room so poky that it affected his work, not cramping his style but provoking a more expansive manner. He painted in cusps and downstrokes, a Paddington Hals willing himself to spontaneity. A sense of impulse, of fluent growth, was brilliantly achieved.” (William Feaver in Exhibition Catalogue, London, The Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 29) The increased scale and exaggerated proportions of Freud’s figures from this period onwards, can be read as symbolic of the artist’s defiance against the long and narrow confines of his Clarendon Crescent studio, as the artist has commented. “Do you know, if there is very little to eat it makes you terribly hungry?” (in Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p. 150).
The dramatic change which was brought about by Freud’s change of brush and environment is powerfully conveyed in the present work. At 36 by 28 inches, this canvas represents its sitter at a scale which is dramatically larger than life size. This alteration of scale would have allowed Freud to focus right in on every minute detail and planar alteration in Behrens’ face in order to maximise his sitter’s presence. Not so much a photo-realist painting, more a concentration on exposure to raw flesh, Freud makes every gesture count as he builds the sitter’s presence and envelopes his consciousness in the thick impasto of the paint. Here the viewer is a witness to the direct intimacy of the relationship between the artist and his sitter. As Behrens stares dreamily to the left of the painter/viewer, we are able to examine the gestural construction of his face with magnified clarity. Accentuating the effect of light as it dramatically carves out the form of his head, Freud depicts the alteration on every follicle of red hair, every annunciated peak and every expressive shadow with enormous depth and vibrancy. Framing the carefully sculpted head, a powerful Munch-esque halo of swirling background light heightens the studied mood. This atmosphere is further accentuated by Freud’s concentration on the subject’s forehead as a key to his state of mind, an innovative feature which would increasingly feature in some of his best later work.
As such, A Painter, Redheaded Man No. II encapsulates a moment of revelation in Freud’s painterly life. Armed with new brushes and a change of studio, his output was completely refreshed and newly invigorated. This was the time when his signature style, which somehow encapsulated the psychology of the sitter within the material being of the paint, came sharply into view. Devouring his adoration of paint, and his favourite historical painters, Freud’s compositions of this time contain a freshness and power which rivals anything he produced later. Often described as the greatest Realist painter of our time as well as Britain’s leading contemporary artist, it was at this stage in his life when he began to enter the elite pantheon of the great painters in history. As Bruce Bernard has stated, this was the time when he “brought something entirely new to the art of painting, conveying the kind of new information and fresh human feeling that supplement and interlock with that provided by his predecessors – that fellowship of strangers scattered through time, on whom we depend more and more for any understanding of where and who we are. It is a companionship of honour to which only history can admit anyone, and I think it may have already welcomed Lucian Freud.” (Bruce Bernard, Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 23)
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