Lucian Freud’s very English love of animals

Freud’s dog etching is a top lot at Sotheby’s and further proof of the artist's undying affection for the four-legged
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Pluto Aged 12 (2000) by Lucian Freud, as featured on Sotheby's website
Pluto Aged 12 (2000) by Lucian Freud, as featured on Sotheby's website

In some ways, Lucian Freud resisted Englishness. As Martin Gayford notes in our authoritative, two-volume Lucian Freud book, “although he already wrote fluently in the German gothic script called Sütterlin, he failed – or refused – to learn to write English in joined-up letters.”

In other ways, the German-born, naturalised British citizen displayed a more ‘English’ temperament than many Brits. He enjoyed the country's rather austere public school system, liked the British humour he came across in Punch magazine and represented Britain, alongside other artists, at the 1954 Venice Biennale.

However, in Sotheby’s forthcoming London sale, Made in Britain, taking place on 20 March in London, it is Freud’s place within a nation of animal lovers that distinguishes him as distinctly British.

The sale features Pluto Aged 12, an etching made by Freud in 2000, when his beloved whippet was approaching the end of its life. As our book explains, a younger animal, Eli, replaced Pluto as Freud’s regular canine sitter after this work was completed, yet this wasn’t the last work Freud made of the animal. The artist also painted Pluto’s grave in 2003.

Though there’s clearly affection here, animals were not sentimental subjects for Freud, but important, living presences. In Freud’s pictures, animal and human sitters often lie together and touch. Sometimes that relationship is a little unsettling, such as in Freud’s 1977 work, Naked Man with Rat, in which the nude sitter is given a drugged and docile rodent to hold.

 

A spread from volume two of our Lucian Freud book, featuring Triple Portrait (right, 1986–7), one of Freud's human and animal portraits
A spread from volume two of our Lucian Freud book, featuring Triple Portrait (right, 1986–7), one of Freud's human and animal portraits

Nevertheless, as Gayford observes, “a much gentler affinity between person and creature is wonderfully implied by David and Eli, in which the slumbering whippet is joined only by Dawson’s feet, or by Dawson’s disembodied hand comforting the aged animal in Pluto Aged 12,” Gayford concludes: “Freud was highly attuned to the nuances of physical proximity.” 

It seems his appreciation reached beyond the picture frame too. The Sotheby’s lot was consigned by Jan Banyard, Pluto's breeder, who received the etching from the artist as a gift in Christmas, 2000, clearly grateful for having himself received so loving an animal, years earlier. 

 

Lucian Freud

To see these images and many more in sharp detail, order a copy of our exquisitely produced Lucian Freud book here. 


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