Extras on “Lucian Freud: Portraits” at the Modern

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.

Lucian Freud Painting the Queen at St. James Palace | 2001
(Photo: David Dawson)

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.

The painting was first shown to the public in a 2002 inaugural exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. (Photo: Royal Collection)

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.

Painting: “Man in the Blue Scarf” | 26″ x 20″

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.


Lucian Freud: Portraits – Only Showing in USA

The only stop in the United States for the spectacular exhibition, Lucian Freud: Portraits, is in Fort Worth at the Modern.

Kudos to Michael Auping, Chief Curator at the Modern, who collaborated with the National Portrait Gallery, London and Freud over many years to mount this show of 90 works, dating between 1943 and 2011.

I want to share one of the many stories Auping told us during an opening week tour.

As we entered the second room, Auping pointed at the three paintings mounted on the right far wall.  He nicknamed the trio, “Jockey, Owner, Bookie.” Here’s why.

Lucian (1922 – 2011) loved horses. His fascination started at an early age, learning to ride at an English boarding and finding refuge in the school’s stables. In adulthood, he continued riding, painted portraits of horses and frequented the tracks to place bets – lots of bets – on the horse races.

In the Stable, 2003
(photo: David Dawson, Lucian’s studio assistant for 20 years)

The “Jockey, Owner, Bookie” paintings….


“Guy and Speck” (1980 – 1981) | oil on canvas | Private Collection, Ireland (photo: Lucian Freud Archive)

Guy Hart had a career as a successful jockey, the type Lucian would befriend at the tracks.  Guy remained a passionate follower of horseracing and became an antiques dealer.

“Man in a Chair” (1983 – 1985) | oil on canvas | Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections (photo: National Portrait Gallery, London)

The portrait above features Baron H.H. Thyssen-Bornemisza, a wealthy international industrialist, art collector and horse owner.

Note the pile of grubby rags at the Baron’s left elbow. At the start of each session, Lucian tore a clean piece of white cotton from a pile of decommissioned hotel sheets, which were purchased in bulk from a recycling business. He’d tuck the cloth under his belt to serve as an apron where he wiped his brush clean after each individual brush stroke. Every stroke you see in the portraits is a precisely mixed oil color.

The Big Man (1976 – 1977) | oil on canvas |Private Collection, Ireland

And, the third painting captures Lucian’s bookie, the guy who enabled an alluring and expensive habit.

One day Lucian asked his New York City dealer, William Acquavella, to settle the balance of his gambling debts with his bookie, “The Big Man.”  Mr. Acquavella agreed thinking it would be a fairly modest sum, and was shocked when the bill was £2.7 million. Rumor has it that the bookie’s family owns numerous paintings which Lucian exchanged for reducing his tab. Today, the holdings are estimated at $50 million on the open market.

All topics Lucian Freud is the focus for the speakers invited to the Fall 2012 Tuesday Evenings at the Modern lecture series. I think it is well worth the 60 minute drive from Dallas to hear these firsthand accounts:

  • September 11th  David Dawson. Lucian’s assistant for 20 years and painter.
  • October 9th   Martin Gayford. British critic, writer and curator, Martin is the subject of the painting, Man in a Blue Scarf (2004).
  • Oct 23rd   Michael Auping. Chief curator at the Modern worked with London’s National Portrait Gallery curator, Sarah Howgate on Lucian Freud: Portraits. He contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue and a series of interviews with the artist. These interviews, completed between May 2009 and January 2011, were the last with the artist before he died.

Lucian Freud: Portraits runs through October 28th. For fans of this artist, I recommend a trip to Fort Worth and the Modern.

Until next week, enjoy.