- Lucian Freud
Mark Holborn, Ed., Lucian Freud: 1996-2005, London 2005, n.p., no. 65, illustrated in colour
Martin Gayford, Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, London 2010, p. 22, illustrated in colour
Painted in 2002, Freud gifted this sublime painting to his life-long friend Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. ‘Debo’ as she was affectionately known, was the youngest of the six Mitford sisters who captivated British society in the 1930s and 1940s and in 1941 she married Andrew Cavendish. He became the 11th Duke of Devonshire in 1950 and Debo then dedicated her life to the running of the Chatsworth estate in the north of England. In Debo, Freud found a kindred spirit, someone who could match his legendary energy, eccentricity, and vitality for life. Debo herself was famed for a somewhat eccentric pursuit: a passion for chickens. Indulging Freud in her hobby she recalled: “Good old Lu. I take him eggs every time I go to London” (Deborah Devonshire quoted in: Jessamy Calkin, ‘Elvis, Chatsworth, JFK and me’, The Daily Telegraph, 12 September 2010, online resource). If the artist was not home, she would leave them on his doorstep and this painting was born from these gifts. Freud’s painting was very much a reciprocal gesture – a heart-felt token of a lifetime of shared memories, a tender memento of a lifelong bond between the great artist and the larger-than-life Duchess.
Freud was the very first guest when Debo and her husband the 11th Duke of Devonshire moved into Chatsworth. “Lucian Freud came for the weekend”, wrote the Duchess to her sister Diana, “he seems very nice and not at all wicked but I'm always wrong about that kind of thing” (Deborah Devonshire quoted in: Annabel Rivkind, ‘The Last Mitford’, Tatler, September 2010). From then on the artist would become a regular guest of Debo and the Duke. He would stay for long periods, painting murals in the house and eventually completing six portraits of the family, including one of Debo herself: Woman in a White Shirt, 1956. This relationship was part of a paradoxical life that Freud so enjoyed, he kept one foot firmly planted in the gritty Bohemian underworld where he would fraternise with gamblers and villains in seedy London drinking dens, while the other was in the glamourous social circles of the British aristocracy. During Freud’s extraordinarily turbulent social life, countless friends would come and go, but his bond with Debo remained a rare constant throughout and lasted over fifty years.
In every sense this painting adheres to Freud’s modus operandi that everything is autobiographical and everything is a portrait. This jewel-like depiction of four eggs not only recalls Freud’s relationship with the Duchess, but also encapsulates the intensity of purpose, observation and technical virtuosity that has marked Freud as a master of his generation.