Five Freud animals
Though best known for his human portraits, Freud did not limit himself to a single species, as our new book shows
Lucian Freud loved animals to such a degree that, from an artistic point of view, the artist apparently saw little distinction between us and the rest of the animal kingdom.
“When asked whether his preoccupation with his sitters was psychological, Freud once answered that ‘a lot of it is zoological’” writes Martin Gayford in our new two-volume publication. “‘When I’m painting people in clothes I’m always thinking very much of naked people or animals dressed.’ Having worked with animals, he mused, had perhaps been a help when it came to depicting people.
He often combined the two in a work, such as Girl with a White Dog (1950-51), which depicts Kitty Garman, his first wife, reclining on a mattress with a white bull terrier nestling in the curve of her knee. “The latter is a wonderful piece of portraiture, its head and body every bit as particularized as the woman’s,” writes Gayford.
Unfortunately, not every animal subject was as placable as that Bull Terrier. “Holding an animal was an exciting experience to Freud,” Gayford writes. “‘If you touch a wild bird’, he told Feaver, ‘it’s a marvelous feeling.’ At one stage he bought a buzzard, but Kitty drew the line at this, so it had to be returned to the shop. The writer Joan Wyndham, who had a brief affair with the painter, recalled his tussles with the bird of prey he drew in the pastel Sparrowhawk (1948). ‘The hawk hated Lucian. He would take it on the Circle Line wearing his grandfather’s overcoat with a fur collar from Vienna and much too big for him, with the hawk attacking him.’
“Most members of the animal kingdom were only suitable models for Freud if no longer alive, like Dead Monkey (1950) and the marvelous Dead Heron (1945).”
Yet the artist also found ways to placate animals he wished to keep alive. When he came to paint his first male nude, Naked Man with a Rat, in 1977–8, “Before each session the rat was given a dog bowl of Veuve Clicquot champagne mixed with half a crushed sleeping pill, after which it would not wake for two or three hours,” writes Gayford. “When it awoke, it might need to be recaptured after running round the studio, then more champagne and cheese was administered, and the rat would nod off for long enough to allow some more work.”
To see that image in detail, as well as hundreds of other works by this important artist order a copy of our two-volume book, Lucian Freud, here.