signed, titled and dated 1947 – 48 on the reverse
"Everything is a portrait" - Lucian Freud
"I noticed I switched away from people when my life was under particular strain; I preferred working in complete isolation. Not using people is like taking a deep breath of fresh air." - Lucian Freud cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 35)
Illustrating the remarkable technical mastery and heightened awareness for minute detail that are synonymous with the work of Lucian Freud, Daffodils and Celery represents the pinnacle of the artist’s Ingriste linear period of carefully stylised realism. Enhanced to a disturbing, almost hallucinatory degree, this work is tyrannically attractive to the eye in its proximity to perfection and ventilates the artist’s lifelong obsession with textural form. Freud here goes beyond realist imagery to stake an eccentric territory between innocence and intense, mature prescience - a unique way of seeing has remained strong throughout his career to the present. Like Freud’s portrait of his first wife Kitty Garman executed circa 1947, Daffodils and Celery is one of the artist’s most memorable and complete early masterpieces. Exuding the superlative attention to intimate detail that characterises Freud’s subsequent oeuvre, Daffodils and Celery records the development of one of the most enduring motifs of his oeuvre: that of the vitality, even personality, of plants.
Plants and still-lifes represent one of the most significant and enduring themes in Freud’s oeuvre, and like his portraits, afford a mini canon through which it is possible to examine the technical and stylistic evolution articulating his career. Using the finest sable brushes and a complex selection of subjects to test the limits of his acute perceptive capacity, the sharpness of Freud’s line here lends the composition its distinctive aura of sustained concentration. Few artists of the 20th Century have studied material and surface with such painstaking dedication as Freud who regards each work as a challenge in which to hone his eye and develop his technique. Whether flesh or fabric, Freud’s creative vision is fuelled by his obsessive commitment to conquering the vagaries of form and surface. Although devoid of the artist’s usual subject matter, the human figure, Freud’s exquisitely observed views of nature are striking for their ostensible arbitrariness. Similar to the artist’s portraits, an assertive impression of objective distance, combined with a painstaking attention to even the smallest and seemingly unremarkable detail, lends his nature-inspired compositions a disarming power.
Freud’s unblinking concentration upon the subject here, as if he were viewing it for the first time, is a characteristic that has remained in his best work. Exhibiting an unforgettable directness of vision, the transparency and ethereality of the brushwork actively models the image. Like his jewel-like oil paintings on copper executed in the early 1950s, including the lost head of Francis Bacon, the luminosity and realism of the composition suggest a debt to Flemish art. The graphic influence of Dürer’s daylight naturalism emanates from the painstaking precision and detail in the jug and daffodils. Like Dürer, Freud was drawn to nature’s compositional complexity, and the present work exhibits a similar studied attention to detail as the German master's exquisite drawings and etchings.
Freud is most famous for his figure studies, but throughout his life he has turned to painting landscapes and plants as an escape from the human form. Here his masterful facility with paint is exquisitely conveyed and like so many of his portraits, the composition has the asymmetrical feel of a snapshot. The perfectionism of form and enamel-like surface here exhibit a virtuoso draughtsmanship to match the finest Flemish painters, and it is no wonder that Freud was soon to be dubbed by Herbert Read, ‘The Ingres of Existentialism.’ There is a curious, still tension to the composition which is visually enhanced by our only partial exposure to the back of the wooden chair. Accentuated by pallid North London daylight, Freud here revels in the diversity of the textures giving each minute detail an equal degree of studied attention. The infinite refractions of light upon the glass jug are poetically offset by the smooth linearity of the daffodils and chair which draw the viewer's gaze up the composition from the kaleidoscopic patterns of the jug. One of the defining characteristics of Freud’s portraits is their tangible awareness of and sensitivity to the subject. His still-life compositions actively nurture and compliment Freud’s inquisitive eye by enlivening his masterful draughtsmanship and attentiveness to the vagaries of form. Importantly, they also allow Freud refuge from the constant studio intrusions incurred by his portraits, and as such, afford glimpses of the artist at his most private and reflective.
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