Lot 209
  • 209

LUCIAN FREUD | Dead Bird on a Bamboo Table

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Lucian Freud
  • Dead Bird on a Bamboo Table
  • watercolour, gouache, pen and black ink on buff paper
  • 49.8 by 64.5 cm. 19 5/8 by 25 3/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1944.


Joan Bayon, London
Private Collection (thence by descent)
Christie's, London, 20 November 2013, Lot 1
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

“I was always excited by birds. If you touch wild birds it's a marvellous feeling" (Lucian Freud cited in: William Feaver, 'Lucian Freud: Life into Art', in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 23). Beautifully restrained, crisp and candid, Dead Bird on a Bamboo Table is an instance of fine early draughtsmanship from Lucian Freud’s outstanding early graphic corpus. Three elegant bamboo legs support a table whose delicately patterned surface – rendered with neat miniature brushstrokes of black, white, and grey – reflect the soft, generous plumage of the birds resting on it. The birds themselves are rendered with a deft combination of watercolour, gouache, pen and black ink, exuding a tender combination of subtle ethereality layered over hallmark Freudian corporeality. The finesse and care invested in the draughtsmanship of the feet, feathers, wings and beak, as well as the immaculate composition of the work, recall the paintings of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849); with Dead Mallard, Abalone Shell and Stew Ingredients (1805-10) in particular bearing significant formal similarity. With a panel of blue watercolour extending precisely from the birds’ tail feathers to beyond their beaks, the birds are accorded a gentle, respectful grace that contrasts with the more harsh – albeit still deeply sympathetic – light in which Freud’s future human subjects are portrayed. Thereby revealed is Freud’s lifelong affection for animals, and in particular for birds; indeed, the artist looked after two sparrow hawks in his studio from the late 1940s. The artist himself writes of this sentiment: “I was always excited by birds. If you touch wild birds it's a marvellous feeling" (Lucian Freud cited in: William Feaver, 'Lucian Freud: Life into Art', in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Lucian Freud, 2002, p. 23).

The present work was executed concurrently to Freud’s first solo exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, in which a number of drawings of birds were exhibited. Birds became an increasingly important motif in Freud’s work through the decade, and were something of a privileged subject for him; his interest in them dated back to his emotive encounters with the works of Albrecht Dürer. While Freud portrayed live animals at London Zoo, his predominant animal subjects were derived from taxidermists. He acquired dead monkeys himself from Palmers Pet Stores in Camden, and Lorna Wishart – a prominent member of the Bohemian Bloomsbury Set and for a time lover of Freud – procured for him both the famous zebra head, and the heron that served as the subject of the acclaimed Dead Heron (1945). If the present work bears compelling resemblance to Chicken on a Bamboo Table (1944), then this does not imply its subservience to it; Dead Bird on a Bamboo Table bears a distinctive and inimitable muted excellence particular to its medium and its creator.