This is a quicker check-in than I had anticipated because my week became full of unplanned and fun activities once I bought a weekend pass to the 25th Dallas VideoFest.
So, I want to share a short anecdote about one of the Lucien Freud’s paintings. One of his smallest portraits captures a likeness of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s only 9.3” x 6” – tiny on the easel below.
Typically, Freud required his subjects come to his studio, housed in his Kensington London home. The Queen of England was an exception to this rule. He set up a make-shift studio at St. James Palace, not in a grand room with scarlet brocade curtains and ancestral paintings as the backdrop but in a modest, drab room that is used by the Royal’s art conservators. The setting was more akin to Freud’s own shabby studio space.
The Queen, given her responsibilities, could commit to a limited number of sittings between May 2000 and December 2001. To minimize time in the studio, a female staff courtier placed the royal crown on her head and filled in for the Queen because Freud knew that the number of faceted diamonds and complexity of the setting would be very time-consuming to paint. While there, the Queen sat and chatted about their mutual love of horses and betting at the horse track as Freud captured the likeness of her face and hair and studied her inner spirit. The work was a gift from Freud – done for free, not as a commission which was Freud’s mode of operation, giving him full artist freedom. The portrait was hailed as brave and clear-sighted by some and condemned as a travesty by others.
How do I know this inside story? It comes from a reliable source: specifically, David Dawson who was Lucian Freud’s assistant for 21 years and inherited Freud’s’ home and studio space as bequeathed to him in the final will. (Note: Freud died last year in July 2011.)
Dawson was the first guest speaker at the Modern in conjunction with this exhibition.
The next speaker, scheduled for October 9th, is Martin Gayford who sat for “Man in the Blue Scarf” (see image below). This promises to be another enlightening talk full of back stories.
Martin suggested himself as a sitter to Lucian Freud over tea in the kitchen – not really expecting a positive answer. The best Martin hoped was for Freud to hesitate and say: “Perhaps?” Instead, Freud replied: “What are you doing next Tuesday evening?” What unfolded was 130 hours of sitting sessions in Freud’s studio, between November 2003 and April 2005, and a book about the experience.
The portrait of Queen Elizabeth is not included in the current show at the Modern Art Museum Fort Worth titled Lucian Freud: Portraits which closes October 28th – it stays in her Majesty’s Royal Collection – but there is still much to see in this show, including “Man in the Blue Scarf.”
Enjoy your week.