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MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION

Lucian Freud
BOY ON THE STAIRS
Estimate
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Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
600,000800,000
LOT SOLD. 1,455,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
1

MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION

Lucian Freud
BOY ON THE STAIRS
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
600,000800,000
LOT SOLD. 1,455,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York

Lucian Freud
1922 - 2011
BOY ON THE STAIRS

Please note that the loan of this work has been requested for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s Drawings curated by David Dawson at the National Portrait Gallery in London, opening in 2021.

Provenance

Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Freud (the artist's parents)
Mrs. Jo Kaufmann, New York
James Kirkman Limited, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above in August 1990

Exhibited

London, London Gallery, Lucian Freud, November - December 1948,  n.p., no. 8 (b)
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lucian Freud: Early Works, November 1993 - January 1994, p. 52 (text)

Literature

William Sansom, The Equilibriad, London, 1948, p. 21, illustrated
Sebastian Smee and Richard Calvocoressi, Lucian Freud On Paper, New York, 2009, p. 26, illustrated in color (the present work as illustrated in The Equilibriad)

Catalogue Note

Boy on the Stairs is a work of extraordinary intensity and exactitude. It is paradigmatic of the earliest period of Freud’s career, demonstrating the virtuosic nature of his draftmanship, the relationships he held with his most important sitters, and the importance of literature to his oeuvre. The work has excellent provenance, having resided in the personal collection of Freud’s own parents, and noteworthy exhibition history, having originally appeared in Freud’s celebrated solo exhibition at The London Gallery in 1948. The London Gallery exhibition was a high point of Freud’s early career, featuring a number of his most accomplished paintings and drawings, including the symbolically loaded Girl with Roses, which depicted a newly pregnant Kitty Garman and is now held in the permanent collection of the British Council.

Throughout his life, Lucian Freud was famous for his eclectic range of portraiture subjects: he was just as likely to portray a member of the landed gentry as he was a bank robber from London’s Soho underworld; just as comfortable in training his eye upon an erudite art critic as upon the young hoodlums in the Paddington area where he lived and worked. In 1943, five years before the creation of the present work, Freud had moved from the relative serenity of Abercorn Place to a flat by the Regent’s Canal in Delamere Terrace. It was a notably rougher part of the neighborhood. He described how: “Delamere was extreme and I was conscious of this. A completely nonresidential area with violent neighbors. There was a sort of anarchic element of no one working for anyone.” (the artist cited by William Feaver in Exh. Cat., London, Tate, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 21) Amongst his new neighbors were the tearaway brothers Billy and Charlie Lumley with whom Freud quickly forged a close bond. The present work is one of the very earliest works in an artistic and personal relationship with each of these boys that would last more than a decade. The friendships encompassed some extraordinary works, such as Freud’s portrait of Charlie – Boy Smoking – completed in 1950-51 and now held in the Tate Collection. It features a comparable intensity as the present work, the same miniature composition, the same exact style of depiction, and an identical ferocity of gaze. These two boys were much younger than the artist and from an entirely different background, but their relationships were characterized by genuine and sincere tenderness. Indeed, in 1955, after Freud’s marriage to Caroline Blackwood had disintegrated and the artist was in psychological meltdown, Francis Bacon called the Lumley brothers to make sure that Freud did not take his own life: “He was a right mess and Francis told me to make sure he did not top himself.” (Charlie Lumley cited in Geordie Grieg, Breakfast with Lucian, London, 2013, p. 118)

Boy on the Stairs is one of a suite of five drawings created by Freud as illustrations for the William Sansom novella The Equilibriad. The drawings, as exemplified by the present work, can be held up not only as perfect examples of Freud’s early style, but also as the ideal foil for Sansom’s work; Sansom “was once described as London’s closest equivalent to Franz Kafka. He wrote in hallucinatory detail, bringing every image into pin-sharp focus.” (Christopher Fowler, ‘Forgotten Authors: William Sansom’, The Independent, 4 October 2008, online) From the mid-1940s until the early 1950s, Freud’s style was similarly based on detail and achieved through unwavering exactitude and intense examination. In painting he used sable brushes that tapered to a fine point, and in draftsmanship he relied on soft pencils of impossible delicacy. He mainly worked with a panel, canvas, or sketch pad on his lap, whilst sitting almost knee to knee with his sitter, examining their visage at close quarters with fierce concentration. This style led to critical comparison with the Dutch Masters of the Northern Renaissance, and to Herbert Read’s contemporaneous acclamation that Freud was “the Ingres of Existentialism.” (Herbert Read, Contemporary British Art, Harmondworth 1951, rev. 1964, p. 35)

Freud’s exact style of draftsmanship reached its peak in 1952 in Freud’s now legendary portrait of Francis Bacon – comparable to Boy on the Stairs in scale, immediacy, composition, and delicacy. The Bacon portrait is now tragically missing, having been stolen from the Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988. However, it has been historically described in terms that could just as easily be ascribed to the present work: a picture bestowed with “the silent intensity of a grenade in the millisecond before it goes off.” (Robert Hughes cited in Exh. Cat., Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Lucian Freud: Paintings, 1987, p. 7) Boy on the Stairs should be lauded as an exemplar of this period of Freud’s career; through the crispness of its draftsmanship, through the significance of the sitter, through a comprehension of the literary context, and through an appreciation of its exhibition and ownership history, we can discern a fascinating insight into the work of Lucian Freud. By means of painstaking observation and exceptionally adept execution of pictorial truth, Freud finally exposes the crisis of his own self, and turns the mirror to an unavoidable and incontrovertible fact of life: the isolation of the individual that lies at the heart of the human condition.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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New York