Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Lucian Freud Drawings" - a life in line

Lucian Freud fans can indulge their love of his drawings as well as his portrait paintings as from tomorrow.

Lucian Freud Drawings opens at Blain|Southern Gallery in Hill Street (just off Berkeley Square).  This is the most comprehensive survey - over the last 70 years - of Lucian Freud's works on paper that has ever been staged by any gallery.

Lucian Freud
The Painter's Mother, 1983
Charcoal and pastel 32.4 x 24.8 cm (12.76 x 9.76 in)
©Lucian Freud
This provides a really great complement to the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  If you're coming to London to see the exhibition I do urge you to try and make time to see this one too.

Planning for it took about the same amount of time - and work started on it six years ago - with the full involvement of Freud himself - up until his death last year.  That's because this exhibition like the one in the NPG has well over 100 works of art by Lucian Freud.
'It's obviously a question of making a good choice', said Lucian Freud when we began thinking about this exhibition six years ago
Lucian Freud Drawings - an essay by William Feaver in the catalogue of the exhibition
The exhibition draws upon a number of works in both institutions and private collections. A number of the drawings have never been seen in public before - making this a very special "must see" exhibition.

The exhibition opens tomorrow Friday 17th February 2012 and closes on Thursday 5th April 2012.  Entry is strictly limited to those who have tickets (find out below how to get tickets)

The exhibition will then travel to the USA where Lucian Freud Drawings will be exhibited by the Acquavella Galleries, New York between 1 May – 9 June, 2012.

In total there are 130 works in the catalogue - although some will only be seen in London and some will only be seen in New York.

In London there are 108 drawings - in pencil, charcoal, ink, crayon; etchings; paintings in watercolour and gouache and a smoked copper plate which he was working on before he died last July.

There is also a second exhibition - Lucian Freud Drawings Archive - in the Blain|Southern Gallery in Dering Street - which I have yet to see but I'm sure it's going to be a treat.  Freud's numerous graphic illustrations are presented accompanied by the research books that interested the artist, rare interviews, past exhibition ephemera and documentary film materals.  This includes the documentary made by William Feaver and Jake Auerbach for Omnibus.  This I have seen and it's an excellent film.

Lucian Freud Drawings - at Blaine Southern Gallery, Hill Street
on the left are two studies of artist and friend Francis Bacon in crayon and chalk  (1951 and 1961)
Below you can find out more about the exhibition, see more images on display and find out how you can get to see it.

I saw the exhibition on Monday and met curator William Feaver,  who worked with both the gallery and the painter on the exhibition for five years prior to his death.  He told me about the drawings and the artist - and the biography he's now resumed work on.  Feaver is an art critic, biographer and a curator and is the author of Lucian Freud (New York: Rizzoli, 2007) which is the most comprehensive publication on the artist to date.

The exhibition essentially follows the stylistic development of Freud's drawing practice from his very first drawing (saved by his mother) to the very last copper plate that he worked on.
Lucian Freud began by drawing, and drawing remained, for over seventy years, the basis of his art.
William Feaver
His development as an artist saw an early focus on drawing.  Freud was dedicated to both drawing and to the range of drawing media.  he also had a particularly intense approach to drawing in the early part of his career and paid attention to every detail.
"I very much prided myself on my drawing"Lucian Freud
His early paintings in particular have a strong element of draughtsmanship with every painting essentially being a drawing

Lucian Freud
Startled Man: Self Portrait (for Equilibriad, 1948),
1948 Pencil 22.9 x 14.3 cm (9.02 x 5.63 in)
©Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Narcissus (1948)
ink
©Lucian Freud
However he gave up drawing in the 1950s so he could concentrate on the development of his painting. Or so the story goes. What in fact happened was he stopped showing his drawings so the focus of the critics and the public was all on the painting.

By the 1960s he's using watercolour to draw forms and, in contrast to his earlier approach, now draws only the main elements of form with a brush and watercolour wash.

Lucian Freud
Watercolour studies 1961
Self Portrait, Sleeping Girl, Child resting, Child Reading II
©Lucian Freud
Since 1982 he resumed the production and publication of his etchings of sitters. Thus we've latterly seen most evidence of his drawing in his etchings which he tended to do after he had finished a portrait.  The exhibition includes the very last copper plate he worked on - all marked up with white chalk to indicate the areas he intended to work on in the next session.

However the last drawings also include a number of charcoal studies including one delightful one of his friend and studio manager David Dawson.

The exhibition is on two floors and in five rooms.  Downstairs it starts with his earliest known drawing - a drawing of birds in a tree which was done when when he was 8 years old.  This was exhibited in Peggy Guggenheim's gallery in Cork Street, London in 1938 'shortly before the young Freud succeeded in being asked to leave school prematurely and became a fully fledged artist'.

Lucian Freud
Birds in a tree (1930)
Conte 21 x 14cm (8.25" x 5.5")
©Lucian Freud
What's interesting about this exhibition is that to me it actually speaks more of his own personal  interests as an individual than the NPG exhibition does.

Here for example we have many drawings of animals and birds  - including drawings of dogs, especially whippets, but we also have images of horses his other great love....

©Lucian Freud

and zebras, stuffed toy monkeys, real dead monkeys, dead birds, squids and sea urchins and a cat!

Then there's the fish.

One of the important aspects of Freud's work is his constant referencing of artists he admires.  Paintings by Constable, Watteau, Chardin and Turner have all been remade by Freud.  His is the work of an artist who pays homage to the interesting and the best - and to paintings or parts of them which might not spark a creative thought in another artist.

Lucian Freud
Drawing After Turner (1987)
charcoal and chalk, 31.7 x 40cm
©Lucian Freud
He liked drawing things as they were unadorned and one rather imagines that this pile of fish from the catch - skate, sole whiting and dabs - appealed to him for that reason.  They are, in fact, a small part of a Turner painting - Sun rising through Vapour (before 1807) which hangs in the National Gallery.

Is it just me or do the fish look rather like a body lying on the ground?

Below is a drawing which seems to be some sort of study related to his painting called Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (1981-83) which is currently on exhibition at the NPG (see my post Review: Lucian Freud Portraits at National Portrait Gallery).

The catalogue suggests that the studies he made after a painting is finished is a way of "looking further, satisfying himself as to the inner life of the painting"

Lucian Freud
After Watteau (1983)
crayon, ink and watercolour, 15.5 x 25.4cm (6.25" x 10")
©Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Palm Tree
(1942)
pastel, chalk and ink, 61.5 x 43.5cm
©Lucian Freud
I was half expecting to see an etching of Constable's Elm - but sadly not in this exhibition.

It's unsurprising that he found a tree in history to draw as Freud also seems to have liked to draw leaves for their qualifies of sculptural form or complexity.  He created drawings (and paintings) of indoor plants and individual leaves.

I very much liked the Palm Tree he drew in 1942 age 20.  It's used by the Aquavella Galleries as their feature image for the show.

His garden also became another motif within his portfolio of work over the years.

Finally, there are drawings of people, mainly heads throughout the exhibition.

As you might expect, there's a good variety to those heads and they also include a number of self-portraits.  I've focused less on these given the focus on portraiture elsewhere - however I have to say I very much like his drawings of heads - particularly those done in ink in the 1940s.

I was particularly intrigued by the half finished study of Harold Pinter done in 2007.  This was as far as the project went.  Pinter had difficulty with the stairs and it became apparent he was expecting that a portrait was something done in a couple of sittings and with the aid of a lot of photographs.  Apparently it seemed like a good idea to both of them to quit somewhere near the beginning.

What's particularly interesting about this study is that it demonstrates Freud's approach to starting a portrait using first a charcoal "rough" drawing and then beginning to map in the contours and tonalities.

Lucian Freud
Harold Pinter (2007)
charcoal and oil on canvas, 25.4 x 20.3cm
©Lucian Freud
Finally, Freud was an artist who painted his relatives throughout his life.  i'd like to finish by showing you a unique sequence of images comprising a study done of his father after his death and a couple of drawings of his mother Lucie.

Lucian Freud
The Painter's father (1970) watercolour and pencil
The Painter's Mother (1972) oil on canvas
The Painter's Mother (1983) charcoal and pastel
©Lucian Freud
It felt like an absolute privilege to be able see this exhibition.  I had absolutely no hesitation in buying the catalogue of the exhibition - which I think is available in a limited edition and only from the gallery.

Biography of Lucian Freud

William Feaver told me that he has resumed work on a biography of Freud.  Prior to his death he had agreed with Lucian that it would not be published in his lifetime.  He expects it will take two to three years to finish - but I expect we'll be in for a treat when it finally appears.

Link: Lucian Freud - Resources for Art Lovers

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