oil on canvas
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, Lucian Freud, Paintings, 1958, no. 10, illustrated
Carefully selecting his models from amongst his close friends and family, Freud’s work is enriched by its often intimate and autobiographical content. “It’s good,” he once said “to breed your own models,” and throughout his long career he has painted his children with singular attentiveness and consistency. (Lucian Freud cited in William Feaver, ‘Freud at the Correr: Fifty Years’ in Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 35) Like Freud’s remarkable series of self-portraits which record not only his maturing features but also his constantly evolving style, so too the portraits of his children provide a compelling and insightful lens through which to examine the artist’s work. Endowed with a special care and devotion, as collaborative products between father and daughter as well as artist and sitter, Freud’s portraits of his daughters provide pictorial realisations of a paternal as well as familial dialogue. Painted in 1956 in the garden of the weekend house near Coombe that he shared with his second wife, Caroline Blackwood, Child with a Toy Dog depicts the artist’s daughter Annie by his first wife, Kitty Garman. Although only about six or seven when the portrait was painted, Annie here has the mature and strong features of her mother who features in some of Freud’s most memorable and powerful portraits like Girl with Roses.
Some fifty years on, the model reflects: "It is great to see this lovely painting again and remember what it was like to sit for it. At the time I was intrigued by the blues and greens my father saw in my face.
I think that he knew that I found sitting for the picture quite demanding. To keep me entertained he told me a story in serial form, in which I was a child stowaway on board an ocean liner. I carried a magical dog in small suitcase. In particular, I remember that I arrived seconds late for the sailing, and as the ship began to move, I leaped dauntlessly from the dockside, suitcase in hand, onto the deck and so began my journey. Remembering this story, I have the sense that my father saw me as somehow heroic and that, fifty years on, that feeling has been preserved." (Annie Freud, December 2005)
This portrait occupies an important place within Freud’s oeuvre and marks the seminal moment of transition from his early Ingriste linearity to the fuller and more confident mature style of his 1960s portraits. Two years earlier, Freud had represented Britain at the Venice Biennale to great critical acclaim alongside Francis Bacon and Ben Nicholson, and here we see him exploring new aesthetic and technical possibilities in paint. The fullness of Annie’s form and the passages of fluid brushwork in her hair and forehead reflect not only an advance in Freud’s confidence as a portraitist, but also the recent changes to his working process. At the suggestion of his friend Francis Bacon, in 1954 Freud began to paint standing up and swapped his fine sable brushes for a harsher and more expressive hog-hair. Freud was a great admirer of Bacon’s work and for its ability to “unlock the valves of feeling” through sweeping brushstrokes loaded with paint, and as Freud explained, “I wanted to develop something that was unknown to me.” (Lucian Freud cited in William Feaver, ‘Freud at the Correr: Fifty Years’ in Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 35) Importantly these changes allowed Freud to measure himself better against the subject, to move the paint around with more energy and emphasis, and to get a better feeling of the shapes and forms. The contours of Annie’s face and hand here are bathed in a translucent light here and there is a heightened physicality and presence to the figure that moulds itself from the individual minute accents of Freud’s brush.
As with his sitters, Lucian Freud’s way of getting to know his children has always been through paint. There is a sense of tenderness here that is evoked through the intimacy of Annie’s pose and the artist’s almost touching viewpoint as he hovers over her. Precious, young and fragile, one of Freud’s greatest gifts as an artist is his ability to adapt his painting style to reflect the character of the subject. However, he is careful never to stray into overtly sentimental tenderness, and it is a golden rule of Freud’s portraiture not to be indulgent to the subject matter. “I’m so conscious that that is a recipe for bad art,” explains Freud. (cited in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, 2000, p. 15) In painting his friends, lovers or daughters, he paints what he sees not what they want him to see and maintains the same degree of emotional detachment.
A passionate observer of reality, Freud’s desire to paint is driven by his obsessive fascination with form and texture. Here his notorious painterly curiosity emanates from the assiduous devotion he invests to every minute detail. Focusing upon his daughter’s youthful face with an intense, almost microscopic scrutiny, each individual hair of her eyelashes has been lovingly traced across the canvas with the finest brush. There is a tremendous vitality and feeling of warmth to the skin of her face and hand that radiates from the delicate brushstrokes and infinite subtle hues of white, pink and orange. As is characteristic of Freud’s best work, there is a feeling of completeness to the composition that emerges from the harmonious fusion of parts and the objective equality of detail invested in each area of the painting. The texture of the toy dog that Annie nervously claps to her chest, and the soft folds of her diaphanous white jumper sleeve are rendered with as much study and precision as her visage.
As Freud has said of all his work, “The subject matter is autobiographical, it's all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement really.” Maintaining the restrained palette of his earliest paintings, in the present work we see Freud’s mature style in evolution as the emphasis changes from a youthful emphasis on draftsmanship to a more tactile, voluminous quality. Rendered in a looser, more intuitive nip and tuck manner and yet maintaining a disquieting realism that is at once brutally emphatic and richly detailed, it reflects the artist’s comment that: “I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.” (cited in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, 2000, p. 15)
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