Executed in 1981.
Depicting one of Lucian Freud's most recognizable subjects and beautifully exhibiting the artist's incomparable manipulation of paint, Guy and Speck of 1981 is an artwork of terrific vitality. This painting reveals the process behind Freud's much commended technique, and exquisitely captures in minutely-observed detail a character very familiar to the artist at this time. Its fragmentary state is testament to a final difference of opinion between artist and sitter, and thus fully plays out Freud's statement: "I've got a strong autobiographical bias. My work is entirely about myself and my surroundings." (cited in: William Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, p. 18) . Guy Hart was an antiques dealer and passionate follower of horseracing, having once been a jockey, and he belongs to an elite cadre of subjects that have fascinated Freud through repeated depiction. Here Guy's heavily lidded eyes stare directly out at us from within his charismatic face, superbly executed in staccato brushstrokes. Typically Freud's portraits begin at the centre, often with the nose, before the painting spreads outwards towards the edges of the canvas, the physiognomy thereby remaining the epicentre of psychological import within the composition. The fractional variations in hue explicate the different facets of flesh, while the glorious array of textures - from the dabbed splodges of the grey flannel suit to the sweeps of Speck's silky brown and white coat, to the smooth smears of the soft cotton shirt – beautifully animate the painting's surface. Twenty years before this painting Freud had turned away from drawing as the foundational architecture of his compositions towards the more direct application of paint straight onto the canvas, and Guy and Speck delivers a fantastic rendition of this masterfully urgent mode of picture-making.
Guy Hart, whose original surname was Packer before he changed it by Deed Poll, had been a jockey in his youth and, though never quite in the premier league of riders, achieved one spectacular success right at the start of his career. Aged just fifteen and weighing less than six stone he won the major race the Cambridgeshire Handicap with a horse named Esquire on 31 October 1945. Despite not being legally allowed to back himself, having been raised in a betting family he got his father to put forty pounds on Esquire for him, which had been tipped with odds at 40-1. He won the race by half a length, and was also sent £300 by the owners in gratitude. It was through a shared love of horseracing that Freud became acquainted with Hart, who has recalled that the artist "loved gambling...He'd have £200 doubles and trebles, and loved to back Jeremy Tree's horses, which was a good way to go skint. I used to put the bets on for him with Michael Tabor [a businessman bookmaker and racehorse owner]" (cited in: David Ashforth, "Maiden Voyage", The Racing Post, 3 October 2007). From the outset, Freud had wanted to paint Hart, as the latter narrates: "When I first got to know Freud, he told me that he'd paint me one day, but not until I was older. About ten years later, he suddenly said, 'I'm ready to paint you now'. It took him five weeks to paint one hand, and 18 months to finish it. He was unbelievably slow" (Ibid.).
A second version of Guy and Speck mediates a line between comfortable weariness and alert tension, the reclining postures of their echoing bodies punctuated by two alert glances flashing out at the viewer, as well as slightly tense and clenched hands and paws. William Feaver has described how "A glint of complicity" animates the painting, with neither human nor animal subject "being prepared to trust Freud entirely" (Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 41). By contrast, the present work has the subjects projected head-on towards the viewer, presenting a more resolute and even confrontational presence bearing down on us. Feaver has also noted that "Animal ways impress Freud as virtues: their unselfconsciousness, their lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness, their animal pragmatism" (Ibid.), and Speck's role in this painting should not be underestimated. The subject of the dog has unanimously been enlisted as the animal most faithful to man since Pliny's Natural History and is the allegorical embodiment of fidelity as epitomised in the likes of Titian's portrait of the Duke of Mantua, Federico Gonzaga and Van Dyck's portrayal of the Royalist dramatist Thomas Killigrew. Mining this reach seam of symbolism Freud shows the tubby Jack Russell lodged firmly under the arm of Guy as an inseparable companion. Indeed, the compositional planning on display in this work provides great insight into how Freud conceived master and hound integrated together, with Speck fitting snugly into Guy's torso and their two faces aligning vertically in a dramatic double portrait. Wonderfully evocative in subject, ingeniously organised in composition, and expert in technical execution, Guy and Speck is a fantastic summary of Freud's celebrated oeuvre.
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