Rarely seen Freud portrait goes up for auction
This small, beautiful 1956 painting offers some very interesting insight into Freud’s personal life at the time
If you were to put a price on it, in terms of pounds per square centimetre, Head of a Boy is about to become some of the most valuable canvas ever sold. The 1956 painting by Lucian Freud of the Guinness heir and arts benefactor, Garech Browne, measures just 7 inches X 7 inches (18cm X 18cm) and, when it goes up for sale at Sotheby’s in London on 5 March it is expected to fetch £4.5m-£6.5m ($5.8m-$8.4m).
The estimate is fair, not only due to Freud’s undoubted market power; last summer his far larger and later painting, Portrait on a White Cover (2003) sold for £22.5m, ($29.8m). This smaller portrait, says Tom Eddison, a contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s, is a jewel of a painting”.
“It is funny with Freud, you don’t really get a grip of how good he was until you see these things in person, especially these works from the 1950s which you don’t see very often,” Eddison says. “It is so precise and so beautifully executed. It is a really extraordinary painting, a very tender and beautiful portrait.”
Additionally, the image offers some insight into Freud’s private life. The painter got to know Browne by visiting the gothic hunting lodge, Luggala, in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, which belonged to the boy’s mother, the socialite and heiress, Oonagh Guinness.
Freud went on to marry Brown’s cousin, Caroline Blackwood, in 1953, and cultivated a long-standing friendship with the wider family; the artist used to smuggle the under-age Browne into his drinking clubs.
Clearly, this arty milleu had an effect on the boy. Browne went on to become a patron of the arts, and passed away last March, aged 78.
Though the painting has been seen at Freud retrospectives in the past, it isn't well known, despite its quality and provenance. Perhaps, following this sale, it may end up somewhere more prominent.
To see many more of Freud’s portraits and to gain detailed insight into his professional and private life, order a copy of our two-volume book on the artist here. With more than 480 illustrations, this is the most comprehensive publication to date on one of the greatest painters of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.