- Lucian Freud
- Bruce Bernard (Seated)
- oil on canvas
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1996
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Lucian Freud, New Work, 1996, pl. 19, illustrated in colour
London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud: New Paintings, 1998, no. 109
London, Tate Britain; Barcelona, Fundació 'La Caixa'; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lucian Freud, 2002-03, no. 132, illustrated in colour
‘SITTING FOR LUCIAN FREUD’ by BRUCE BERNARD
“I had known Lucian Freud for rather a long time before I first sat for him. He had occasionally suggested he would like to ‘work from’ me, a phrase he uses more than any other in that connection, and which is entirely appropriate to his procedure as a painter of portraits, which of course he essentially is – whether painting people clothed or naked or dogs, plants, sinks and of course floorboards.
For a long time I was unwilling to respond to his sporadic overtures as I very much dislike sitting or standing still, and certainly not for as long as I gathered would be necessary. One small portrait, I had been reliably told, had been completely wiped out and restarted after three months of sittings- and this threat appalled me. It was only when Lucian suggested an etching and I had somehow heard that his working at speed had appreciably increased, that I still considered accepting what I saw as a burdensome honour.
Two drawings preceded an etching and I think I counted twenty eight sittings of about two hours each for the whole process, but perhaps that was just the etching. Well it was so good of course, and seemed one of his very best etched heads however wearily brooding it made me appear, and I was interested to find that bits of modelling-particularly in the forehead-while not seeming justified by what he had seen, were nevertheless quite right in an inexplicable way, (fig. 4). So I was rather reluctantly converted to my role, and when a painting was suggested five or six years later, and he confirmed a further acceleration in his working speed, I consented with a keen interest in the result. Lucian, as is his custom, asked me how I would like to sit, but I decided I would prefer to stand, suggesting a pose with my hands in my pockets, looking gloomily slightly downwards – a stance very natural to me, (fig. 1). I very soon realised how clever I was to conceal my hands, as this must have saved me about seven sessions – hands being in Lucian’s work, always observed and painted with such concentration and an unexampled sense of significance. Someone – I forget who – wrote that in this picture I seemed a little like one of Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters. I didn’t mind that as I revere that artist and his Nuenen pictures (as does Lucian) and I also have a great appetite for potatoes. I think the portrait remarkably faithful – descended more from Manet perhaps – and was rather pleased to see it as a poster (three of me on rather abstracted guard on each side of the Whitechapel Art Gallery entrance). At first I was suggested that I wouldn’t make a good poster for the Underground (in place of an officially frowned upon nude) to which Lucian had replied, “but he looks like a commuter doesn’t he?”
But for the next portrait (1996), I decided to come clean and put my hands on my knees, almost as a confession of having in the previous instance withheld the legitimate property of the painter – but also perhaps because I had felt deprived at not having seen how he would deal with them.
This portrait, though, affected me quite differently. It shocks me still (salutarily I would say) and I feel as if my nervous system had been penetrated in an unprecedented way, and also that anyone looking at it over the next few hundred years will know something essential (and not necessarily favourable) about me. And in the picture’s nervous charge, the twice-painted hands play a very important role. It must be, I feel, on the very highest level of Lucian Freud’s achievement and I like to think it almost as remarkable as his first picture of The Big Man (fig. 3) which seems to me to be a masterpiece very close in quality and spirit to Ingres’ Monsieur Bertin. (fig. 4)
What remains with me about the process of posing is, apart from the frequent “will this never end?” feeling as I climbed the deeply unattractive stairs, and the moderate discomfort and anxiety involved in keeping still, is Lucian is a very considerate exploiter of his subjects’ voluntary inertia, demonstrated by the way he provokes the positive desire for the success of the work for his own and his art’s sake that all his models share. He quite often converses remarkably freely, both seriously and funnily, while actually painting, but above all he never implies with a single gesture that he knows it all, or even any of it for absolutely certain. I now feel that the staircase was climbed two hundred times for a very good purpose and that I have gained enlightenment in several unlooked-for ways.”
"The picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own." (the artist cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 41)
Lucian Freud’s ability to exorcise the inner soul of his sitters onto canvas is nowhere more profoundly illustrated than in his late portraits, which afford the most refined and perceptive chapter in his quest towards the faithful portrait. Super-charged with an intensity of emotion and psychological intuition, Bruce Bernard (Seated) is amongst Freud’s most eloquent and powerful works of the 1990s. Executed shortly after Bruce Bernard had completed what remains the most authoritative and complete monograph on Freud, this iconic portrait exposes an almost unprecedented wealth of insight between the artist and his subject. Technically and emotionally, the present work provides the culmination of Freud’s mature portrait technique.
Reverberating with the sitter’s angst and identity that Freud embeds within the folds and fibres of his deliciously sensual paint, Bruce Bernard affords a journey into the sheer expressive power of form. Focusing the bulk of his painterly attention upon Bernard’s face and hands, Freud creates the impression of flesh perceived as a kind of landscape, exposing all its contours and its rhythms. Fluid channels of thick impasto paint energise the effortlessly balanced composition, transmitting the self-taught pleasures and learning of more than fifty years at the easel. Bruce Bernard’s form sculpts itself from within a dense cluster of layered, energetic brushstrokes, and is enriched by an acute feeling of physical and psychological presence. Unlike Freud’s earlier portrait of Bernard from 1992 (fig. 2), the artist’s hovering and more intimate viewpoint here pushes the seated figure forwards into our space for unopposed scrutiny. As in some of his most powerful portraits like Frank Auerbach or The Big Man (fig. 3), the inner depth and concentration of Bruce Bernard’s downwards gaze exudes the laborious intensity of the sitting process.
In the years immediately preceding the present work, Freud had painted some of his most ambitious and accomplished canvases: the iconic nude compositions featuring the colossal performance artist Leigh Bowery. These monumental works saw Freud exploring the physical boundaries of the human form and instilled in his painting style a thicker and more expressive impasto. The textural richness of Bruce Bernard’s hands and face here reflect the consummation of these developments, and yield some of the most memorable and intensely studied hands in the artist’s oeuvre. Unlike Freud’s earlier full-length portrait in which Bernard chose to stand with his hands in his pockets - a decision prompted by the vain hope that it would somehow reduce the arduous and time-consuming sitting process - in this portrait he felt compelled to reveal his hands to the artist’s scrutiny. One can sense Freud’s tangible feeling of painterly gratification as he self-indulgently goes over them several times, building their heavy forms out of the thick materiality of the paint.
Bruce Bernard was a true lover of art who felt privileged and proud to be friends with two great modern masters – Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. He had first met Freud in 1943 aged only 14, and over the ensuing six decades, the two men developed an intense and lasting friendship founded upon mutual respect and a shared belief in the power of images. Bruce Bernard was a familiar and well-liked figure in the colourful Post War circle of Soho’s bar and club Bohemia, who began his career as an artist and continued to paint throughout his life. However he found his true vocation as a picture editor working on the Purnell History of the 20th Century during the late 1960s before moving on to the Sunday Times Magazine in 1971. It was there that he produced a groundbreaking series of articles and compiled a book entitled 'Photodiscovery' in which he revealed an intuitive flair for recognising the extraordinary. Whether selecting known masterpieces by reputed masters or sourcing hitherto unseen ones by anonymous amateurs, Bruce Bernard’s acutely critical and sensitive eye was responsible for the pioneering photo-journalism of the Sunday Times during the 1970s. The crowning moment of Bernard's career was undoubtedly his compilation of the the most successful and courageous photo-documentary book ever printed, the best-selling, eponymous 'Century'.
Bruce Bernard brought to the appreciation and understanding of photography an artist’s eye and his remarkably attuned visual awareness. This extended to his own photographs, which capture the era of his time in a sublime and effortless way. Bruce Bernard was a contemporary and friend of the leading artists from School of London throughout the later 20th century, and much of what we know about these enigmatically reclusive individuals comes from his uniquely penetrating photographs. Bernard's powerful images are fascinating documents which combine a painter's eye for composition with qualities of compassion and truth inherent to the subject. Bernard wrote: “For me a real photograph is an image mechanically contrived or conceived by its taker in such a way that it mysteriously becomes a potent fact in its own right - though only with the help of things just beyond his perception or control. It is also like any other proper picture in that nothing can be either added or taken away from it without diminishing it.”
A similar sense of completeness and independence permeates the present work, and rarely can Freud’s oft-cited comment, “I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them,” be more appropriately applied than here. (Lucian Freud quoted in Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p. 190)