Lucian Freud Story Three - How he worked and who he worked with Including the Queen

The queen

Lucian Freud story three - How he workd and who he worked with including the queen


If he wanted to paint you or wanted you in his life he genuinely wanted to know who you were. So he’d ask you anything and everything and this all helped in his painting in a way. You can never analyse quite how painting comes together.

I knew how he painted because of when he started painting me that’s how I actually know how he actually worked. He was interested in people. He was genuinely interested in knowing about your life. 


If he was painting someone else he would only ask you into the studio if he wanted something doing because it would break the connection between him and the model. So he really believed in individuality. He wasn’t interested in any generic overview. He utterly believed in the individuality of everything – be it inanimate or a person. So that’s what he was painting each person as an individual.


How did he choose his subjects?

Again it was people he was very close with and wanted to spend a lot of time with. So on the whole it was people he was having a relationship with.


He had such an enormous capacity of knowing so many different people. That was what was remarkable as well. When he was younger he knew a lot of the great families of the UK and he would stay in their houses, like at Chatsworth he painted the family there of two or three generations. He would paint his girlfriends. He famously was a great gambler so the bookies did very well because he painted the bookies to cover his debts. They’d get paintings. In his Paddington days when he was younger he’d hang out with pretty wild locals – bank robbers and stuff, he’d paint them. So he this amazing ability of crossing all aspects of British society of mid 20th century. He genuinely was interested in people.


Going back to the question… cos he took so long trying to make a painting a portrait he chose people he wanted to spend time with. So a lot of them were girlfriends . . ..


How did it come about that he painted you for the first time?

So I’d been with him for about six years. And he just said one morning I’ve got an idea for a big painting of you. I think we can start now. And because I was there every day it just started. It starts very quietly.


Secretly I’d been hoping. Yeah! But I would never ever say. It would ruin the relationship. If it’s gonna happen it’ll happen and if it doesn’t then that’s the way that goes.


Sunny morning 8 legs (CHK) a very large painting and he said I think you better take your clothes off and from there it just started very quietly. And from there it goes on. It takes 18 months to two years for a big painting. But the brilliant thing about it being a big painting I could see what he was painting because he had the canvas to the side so I could look at him putting every brush mark down. And that for me as a painter was brilliant. He was very very light on touch. He took great care on the surface of the canvas, but the touch was very, very light. He was agitated and very jumpy when he was painting because of his concentration but when he came to actually touching the canvas it was incredibly gentle. He’d jump around a bit and look and come right up close to you and stare at you and come back again. His levels of concentration were incredibly intense. And you’d have the natural flow of it being incredibly intense and then you sat gossipy light chat and then you’d go back into complete silence while he painted again.




So would he actively paint for minutes forty minutes?


Yeah it would be like 20-30 minutes and then he would break the concentration and you’d probably just start chatting. 

And he’d paint very small areas and build out. So he didn’t cover the whole canvass. He would just work in a very small area, say between your eyes or your forehead or nose and he’d bring that up almost to a level of completion and then build out. It was a very unique way of working. But he wanted the forms in the body to come through and it was the forms then in the paint that sort of paralleled into a sort of living being and that’s how he invented.


The way the person is laid on the canvass is invented by him through this amazing, very slow process of looking and placing. And that’s where you have in some of the paintings it’s more obvious strange not distorted but compressed bodies or limbs that fit the canvas because it’s a two dimensional painting of someone.


Would he move people?

It became more and more he wouldn’t even say it it would be a signal thing with his eyes and your eyes and you’d move your head a little bit. `I think that would have happened with most people. There was a lot of looking into each other’s eyes. You’d also get a feel as a model if you were in the right position from the last time.


Did he get frustrated, angry?


Not angry but very frustrated and anxious.


There would be two or three attempts before before the completed canvas which got destroyed. It was a very tight edit all the way through his life.


Sometimes he got very far. No one who was a sitter knew if the painting would end until suddenly it was sent to the framers. It was heartbreaking for some. He’d work for 12 months and then he’d destroy it. He didn’t like it – it hurt him more than anyone – but also it was hard on the sitter. He would physically slash it.

He was very aware that Francis Bacon had thrown canvases away and other people had picked them out of dustbins so from the day I was with him we made a very thorough edit of his work and made sure it wasn’t just discarded. If it was going to exist in the world then it really did exist and anything else we just shredded and cut up in small bits. He totally believed in when he’s no longer around it’s his work that stands up and he wanted his work to be good and nothing halfgood in the world.

So there are about 500 paintings I think – about that. 




How long would he paint for?

So the routine would be start at 7 in the morning work through till, lunchtime, maybe do a little bit after lunch, rest at lunch, after lunch and then start another painting at six at night until midnight or one in the morning. Another painting. The morning paintings were always daylight and the night pictures were always electric and he would never swap.


Due to the practicalities of sitters you’d probably have two morning paintings on the go so the sitters one would come for three or four mornings a week the other would come two or three – and the same at night. So there would always be four or five paintings on the go.



And would he summon them out of how he was feeling that particular day?


If you were the main painting on the go everything was around you. So one painting would be taking prominence. Be it halfway through coming towards one painting would be the real punch and that person would be the real focus in his life.


And that’s what I think some sitters found very, very not upsetting but once the painting was finished that was it. He was gone. 

I never experienced it because I was with him always everyday. Whereas quite a few of the sitters once the painting was finished, gone.

I think people really missed his company.


Do not turn up late. Do not ever turn up late. Full stop! If you were late you were out. If you were late twice Finished. Really history. You had to be punctual and reliable. That’s the way he worked. Lucian built himself up ready to paint every morning. It wasn’t just something he casually happened to do. So he really built himself up ready to start painting. So if the person then didn’t arrive.


 He got really good at knowing who would probably work and who he thought woudln't and the more you did it the better you got. that's why he would paintpeople he knew very well because the chances of things going wrong were less.