Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction Including Property from the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg


Lucian Freud
1922 - 2011
oil on canvas
41 by 33.3cm.
16 1/8 by 13 1/8 in.
Executed in 1973-74.
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Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1980


Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art; The Hague, Gemeentemuseum; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Lucian Freud, 2007-08, p. 126, illustrated in colour


Bruce Bernard and Derek Birdsall, Lucian Freud, London 1996, n.p., no. 141, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Executed between 1973 and 1974, Lucian Freud's Girl's Head forensically details both the physical and psychological topographies of a subject singularly important to the career and life of the artist. It is a painting of exceptional dexterity, proving Freud's phenomenal aptitude to describe form and character directly onto the canvas in the stuff of pigment and medium. Enlisting only the most necessary economy of means, the deft strokes of the brush are narrated by the tightly-knit textural schema. Indeed, it is a superb essay in Freud's painterly mastery: the facetted planes of colour shift through a tonal spectrum to lend form to the visage; creamy skin lies taught across the angular nose and prominent cheekbones; fragile highlights shape the translucent convex eyelids; the sumptuous arabesque of lustrous hair falls down the forehead. Psychology lies at its heart and the irises, lingering between green, brown and grey, are cast introspectively downwards, seemingly lost in a chasm of thought. It is a sensational rendition of intense human expression at the heart of the expanse of canvas, the void surrounding it amplifying its acute drama.

She is the artist's then girlfriend Jacquetta Eliot, the same model who appears in the contemporaneous Small Naked Portrait of 1973-74, in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, and the large scale masterpiece Large Interior W9 of 1973, now housed at Chatsworth, in which she lies behind the artist's mother, staring transfixed at the ceiling. Eliot has described the artist as "funny and clever, ardent, urgent, and fantastically intimate" and spoken of the unique charms of sitting for Freud as being "champagne on dirty floorboards" (cited in: William Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, p. 24). Together they had a son, Francis, in 1971 and their relationship could be often tempestuous. Feaver has accounted that, for the artist, Eliot "brought overt emotional stress to the night-time sessions...she submitted herself with some resentment, letting her thoughts roam and drift" (Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Britain, and travelling, Lucian Freud, 2002, p.32), and that the artist's mother had heard her son's girlfriend smashing things in the next room. The fact that the composition of Girl's Head remains partially realised possibly attests an insoluble fracas, after which the painting could not be continued. It is, inevitably, the precursor of another great unfinished work: the eponymous Last Portrait of 1974-5, which today resides in the The Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation Collection in Madrid. For Lawrence Gowing Last Portrait stood as "that moving, ultimate image of what is essentially perilous and necessarily heart-breaking in love", and, discussing the anonymity of Freud's portraits, aptly asked "What knowledge of who was actually who could add in the slightest to a title like that?" (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p.85). Harbouring much the same aura of raw emotionality, Girl's Head is immediately arresting and draws us in, succinctly manifesting the mantra that the artist once scrawled on his studio wall 'Urgent Subtle Concise'.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction Including Property from the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg