- Lucian Freud
- After Breakfast
- oil on canvas
Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 21 June 2006, Lot 11
Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 165, no. 73, illustrated in colour
William Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, n.p., no. 328, illustrated in colour
The position of the sitter conveys an aura of utmost privacy and intimacy, a moment taken out of life that is filled with quiet contemplation. The tenderness of the woman is heightened by the exposed vulnerability and solitude of her pose. This is accentuated further by the view we are afforded which is shared in many of Freud’s famous nudes. Typically for Freud, the view from above injects a conscious awkwardness into the perspective of his compositions and exposes the model in all their fragility. The tonality of the skin demonstrates Freud’s absolute mastery of colour, which ranges from soft, pale, reddish-pink shades to fleshy, luscious, dark timbres as the subtle morning light is mirrored on every pore of the skin. The brushmarks exude an aura of studied duration as six months of sittings are impacted upon its finely tuned surface. It reveals Freud's determined attitude to painting that has enabled him to capture the human animal better than any artist of his generation. His virtuoso painterly talent transforms the image into one of emotional force, for everything one ultimately feels in front of this painting emanates from the means by which it is conveyed – the paint itself. Every square inch is packed with vitality and atmosphere – the tangible by-products of his dogged concentration and acutely honed sensitivity to mood. Each rhythmic accent and minute flash of colour combine to give a sense of intensified and authentic reality. "I want paint to work as flesh" Freud explained, "I have always had a scorn for 'la belle peinture' and 'la delicatesse des touches'. I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn't want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I'm concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does" (Lucian Freud quoted in: Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, pp. 190-91).
In his pursuit of the personal and evocative expression in painting, Freud radically circumvented traditional approaches of figurative painting. His human subjects are soaked in particularity and saturated with contradiction. Although immediately specific in terms of subject and pose, they do not insist on just one aspect of character or physical fact, but rather present as much as possible at the same time to give a fuller impression of mental as well as physical identity. In this complex duality, Freud’s works recall the depiction of the nude by artists of the Viennese Secession such as Egon Schiele or Gustav Klimt, whose gestural and provocative display of the human form also allow for a double entendre of the physical and the psychological. The emphasis and skewing of different parts of the body liberates the work from pure representation and allows for a more subtle and complex conversation with the viewer.
Sprawled across a sea of billowing white sheets, the model and the distinctive physiognomy of Freud's studio are rendered with tender yet forensic examination. Rather than taking the focus away from the nude, the intricate detail given to every corner of the canvas enhances the fullness and identity of the sitter. It enables the nude to inhabit the paint of her skin like a body would a room. “The space around the figure is part of the figure” (Lucian Freud quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, National Portrait Gallery, Lucian Freud Portraits, 2012, p. 14). The juxtaposed contrasts in texture between the woman’s fleshy vulnerability, the paint rags, armchair and gnarled floorboards convey an acute sensitivity to the expressiveness of inanimate, still-life objects as well as their capacity to enrich the presence of his sitters. The paint rags in particular are a motif employed to skilled effect in many of his best nudes, notably in the iconic Lying by the Rags and in his celebrated series of portraits of Leigh Bowery. Used to compliment his concentration upon the living flesh, they emphasise also the physicality and animalistic contours of the derobed forms they envelop. "I'm interested, really interested in them [his sitters] as animals and part of liking to work from them naked is that I can see more and for that... forms repeated throughout the body and often in the head as well so that you see certain rhythms set up... I am drawn to certain things, rather like Eliot said 'I am moved by fancies that are curled'.... the insides and undersides of things I'm very often drawn to and when I'm working from a person I might use something which would actually be visible from another position because it's something that I like that would show in light" (Lucian Freud quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucian Freud: Recent Work, 1994, p. 17).
The startling honesty with which the artist captured the woman’s foetal position, the striping of her hair or the expression of her face is testament to the intimacy between the painter and his model. While the personal relationship is perceptible in every detail of the work, Freud’s exact and accurate eye avoids any sense of sentimentality. Rather, in its unrelenting observational intensity, the present work is exemplary of Freud’s ability to give further insight into the sitters’ character. Freud achieves this by painting beyond representation, by communicating something extra about the subject that transforms it from being an impersonal exchange into an intimate conversation. In all of its expressive power, After Breakfast is a masterful display of Freud’s painterly dexterity which captures the essence of the human figure and ultimately reminds us of the solicitude of human nature, especially in its most exposed state.