New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lucian Freud: Early Works, 1993-94, p. 52
Composed from a virtuoso display of soft staccato strokes and confident sculptural lines in black and white crayon, this remarkable and tender Portrait of Christian Bérard shows Freud's inimitable ability to capture the soul of his human subjects within their likeness and the ingenious delicacy and grace of the young artist's technique. One of two known portraits by Freud of Christian Bérard, this early masterpiece ranks amongst the finest portrait drawings of his illustrious career, and equal counterpart to its sister portrait described by Lawrence Gowing: "Freud tells more that is to his purpose and ours on the frequent occasions when he loses himself altogether in someone else. Such was the occasion on which he drew one of the best portrait drawings of the century, the head of Christian Bérard, ailing and querulous yet immense in his authority, a Czar of style...Did anyone ever see Bérard more entirely himself?" (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p. 85).
Framing the visage of his sitter against an open expanse of paper, Freud adopts a raised, up-close perspective that magnifies and scrutinizes the bearded contours of Bérard's round, convivial face. From the white glints in his fixed, inquisitive gaze to the individually drawn hairs on his face, head and jacket, every detail is rendered with studied precision. What is equally remarkable here, especially when one considers the porcelain-like surfaces characteristic of Freud's painted portraits from this period, such as Girl With Roses of 1947-8 and now in the British Council Collection, is the confident economy of means through which it is achieved. Each deft accent of Freud's hand exudes sympathy for the physiognomy or material it describes, effortlessly combining to create a compelling feeling of roundness and palpable texture that is beautifully illuminated by the paper's soft fawn tones and smooth surface. The pre-eminent delicacy of Freud's technique here is such that the viewer is drawn ever closer to the picture's surface, effectively bringing them nose to nose with the sitter just as the artist had been.
Dated Christmas 1948, Portrait of Christian Bérard is one of the last depictions of the renowned French artist, illustrator and designer before his sudden death in February 1949 whilst on stage at the Théâtre Marigny. Also known as Bébé, Bérard played an important role in the development of theatrical design in the 1930s and 1940s, culminating in his lustrous, magical designs for Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête. He also worked as a fashion illustrator for Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Nina Ricci. Lucian Freud met Bérard for the first time in June 1948 whilst Bérard was in London for the premiere of the ballet Clock Symphony for which he had designed the décor and costumes. Freud subsequently visited him in Paris in December that year, and at Bérard's suggestion executed two portrait drawings of him. One was acquired by Bérard and inherited by his long-standing partner and collaborator Boris Kochno. The other was the present work which the artist gave and dedicated to Jean Subrenat, owner of the Parisian restaurant La Mediterranee at Place de L'Odeon, not far from rue Casimir-Delavigne where Bérard and Kochno lived. La Mediterranee was a popular meeting place for artists during the 1940s. Balthus had painted the restaurant's sign and Bérard the mural decorations for one of the restaurant's dining rooms, which still remain there today. Subrenat often accepted works from artists in lieu of payment, and over time acquired a considerable collection in which the present work became a foremost highlight.
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