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.