Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lucian Freud - paintings of plants and gardens

Lucian Freud painted plants and gardens as well as people and animals.

I was reminded of this last Friday when I saw Two Plants at Tate Britain.

Two Plants Lucian Freud
Today I decided to review the paintings of plants and gardens by Lucian Freud as I'd never looked at them all.

Below you can find an inventory - in a timeline - with

  • notes about their context and location
  • links to where you can see them and 
  • quotes by people - including Freud himself - about his paintings of plants and why he did them.

In between are my photos of the above painting after I gave it my usual nose to canvas inspection..... I found the way in which he applied paint to very interesting.

All we need now is an exhibition dedicated to his paintings of plants and trees. There's certainly a lot of paintings to pick from!

Paintings of plants and gardens by Lucian Freud

"The subject matter has always been dictated by the way my life has gone. I noticed that when I was under particular strain, I didn't feel so like staring at people or bodies all day." It was at times like these that the palm, the Egyptian Book, thistles, cyclamens, buttercups, substituted for sitters. Seeing through the skin
You can see his plant paintings in The Lucian Freud Archive.

The links below are to
  • either Bridgeman Images which represent his work for licensing purposes.
  • or where paintings can be viewed in Galleries (if possible)
All are oil paintings unless otherwise indicated

The ones I know about are:
"one of the most memorable potted plants in the history of modern art"Lawreence Gowring about the Yucca which appears in Freud's paintings
  • 1953 - Bananas (Southampton City Art Gallery) 
  • 1953 - Plants in Jamaica - meticulous observation of exotic Caribbean vegetation at the Goldeneye villa of Ian and Ann Fleming on Jamaica, where Freud stayed during a visit in 1952-1953. Sold for £481K in 2011
For Freud, Jamaica's relaxed and vibrant island culture represented a welcome escape from the turmoil surrounding his private life back in London. This was reflected in the two paintings that he produced whilst he was there, Bananas(Collection of Southampton City Art Gallery) and Plants in Jamaica; both of which were conspicuously devoid of any human presence. "I noticed I switched away from people when my life was under particular strain," recalled Freud. "I preferred working in complete isolation. Not using people is like taking a deep breath of fresh air" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, p. 35).

The tropical beauty of the verdant Caribbean landscape provided Freud with a fresh and fertile source of inspiration for his painting. Perhaps more importantly, the painting en plein air that it required brought to his work an unprecedented immediacy and technical vitality that Freud developed over the course of the next ten years into an altogether more fluid approach to both subject and technique. 

Sotheby's Catalogue note for Plants in Jamaica | Auction 2011
Intimately observed down to its smallest, naturalistic detail, the all over composition of Plants in Jamaica is delicately articulated in modulating tones of radiant greens and browns. Using the finest sable brushes, in this work, Freud provides a mesmerizing visual manifestation of his renowned proclamation that: "The picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life." (Lucian Freud, Some Thoughts on Painting, July 1954)
  • 1955 Cyclamen - a stem, a flower and three leaves on a wall at Coombe Priory bought by and his second wife, Caroline Blackwood as a place where she could stay when he was in town. One of only two Freud murals now in existence (see Wall Flower and next item)
Cyclamens appealed because of their fleshy petals and thick stems, and the way they collapse when dying. “They crash down,” he once explained.
In 2000, a box containing paints and artists' tools was discovered on a high shelf in a cupboard at Chatsworth. On the side of the box is written: 'Mr Freud: please do not remove from here'.
  •  1959 - Tomato - one very simple tomato - with initials in two corners and a date "To T or J W LF 12/59 - maybe a Christmas present?
  • 1964 - Cyclamen - looking much more like a well developed pot plant
  • 1967 - Small Fern - sat on the floor and viewed from above. Freud began to stand up to paint in the 1950s.  Once owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, they gave it to Prince Charles to mark his 50th birthday.  It can currently be seen in the Prince and Patron exhibition at Buckingham Palace. ( seem to recall it's hung high up!) See Review: Prince & Patron Exhibition at Buckingham Palace
Small Fern (1967) by Lucian Freud
oil on canvas, 34.3 x 29.2 cms
Private Collection - HRH Prince of Wales
A spider plant dominates the foreground in ‘Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-portrait)’. Behind it, a mirror reflects the painter, his hand cupping his ear. Naked, he appears to be an extension of the leaf. Lucian Freud Portraits: Painted Life
  • 1968 - Buttercups - so unexpected and so sublime!
  • 1968-69 - Large Interior, Paddington (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) - a child on the floor and a very large plant in front of a window
In this unsettling Large Interior. Paddington, executed in 1968‒69, Freud employs a cinematographic angle and upward perspective to depict a scene that unfolds inside his Gloucester Terrace studio in London. His daughter Ib (Isobel Boyt), wearing an expression of infinite sadness, lies semi-naked on the floor by a huge plant placed opposite a window.

To paint the present work, Freud was as meticulous as ever with the positioning of the easel in order to view the scene from a forced angle and capture it from a bird’s eye view. As William Feaver states, the houseplant with twisted branches that is given particular prominence here reminded the painter of a huge Zimmerlinde in his grandmother’s house. It is painted in the painstaking manner of his previous period and rendered in a different perspective to the window, which has an oddly disturbing effect on the viewer.
How he painted all those very small leaves
- with very small brushes making very small marks
  • 1977-80 - Two Plants (Tate Britain) - one of my favourite paintings by Freud
In the mid-1960s Freud embarked on a series of paintings of botanical subjects, an interest that was anticipated in an earlier painting, 'Interior in Paddington' 1951. 'Two Plants' is rendered with meticulous precision and is perhaps Freud's most ambitious and most resolved expression of this theme. He began the painting in 1977 and it took three years to complete. Freud recalls that it provided a means of accustoming himself to the light of a new studio. He describes it as 'lots of little portraits of leaves', adding 'I wanted it to have a really biological feeling of things growing and fading and leaves coming up and others dying'. Gallery label 2004
Dr Bernard Verdcourt of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, wrote (letter, 24 November 1982) that the climbing plant is Helichrysum petiolarum DC, and the plant at the bottom of the picture Aspidistra elatior Bl. James Kirkman told the compiler that both plants were indoors in the artist's studio, and that during the years when the painting was in progress both underwent changes, one of them nearly dying.  Tate Britain catalogue entry
section of the bottom plant in 'Two Plants" by Lucian Freud

The bottom plant from Two Plants by Lucian Freud
Freud produced this, for him unusually large, painting using the daylight flooding in from the newly-installed skylight in his west London flat. Its composition derives from a small painting by the early-eighteenth century French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau, showing a Pierrot teased by a group of flirting women. Freud’s painting is focussed around Suzy Boyt’s son Kai (in yellow) who takes the place of Pierrot. Around him are the women in Freud’s life: his daughter Bella playing the mandolin, Kai’s mother to the right, holding a fan, and the painter, Celia Paul, on the left. Freud wanted one of his grand-daughters to pose for the smaller figure in the foreground, though in the end he had to make do with a substitute. He described the finished result as ‘A slight bit of role playing’. 
We think of a garden as nature tamed and civilised, the plants tended and trimmed, the grass kept short, the whole a sort of outdoor drawing-room. Not in the case of Lucian Freud's garden, however. As in many things, Freud has a decidedly unconventional attitude to horticulture.

"I have a Londoner's feeling that I should let plants go, so as to make somewhere that seems rural in the city," he explained to me. As a result, a few years ago his town garden was an impenetrable jungle of weeds, ivy and buddleia (of the wild variety that seeds itself all over London). It was more like waste ground, or a young woodland, than a garden. Although the plot is no more than 50ft long, at one point it was impossible to see to the end.

Freud recorded the garden in this condition in a 1997–99 etching, Garden in Winter, a densely-worked mass of twigs, branches and fronds. In the centre is not so much a buddleia bush as a substantial tree. It is a few tentacles of that giant, growing outside the first floor window of Freud's studio, that appear in the painting Garden from the Window, 2002.

Freud is not only the foremost exponent of buddleia painting in art history, he is quite possibly the only one. It is certainly safe to say that no other artist has devoted such close attention to the species, often considered as much a weed as a conventional shrub. It's nature, but not as we know it | Gardening column review of the Art of the Garden exhibition at the Tate in 2004
  • 2003-4 - The Painter's Garden - an etching 77.0 x 100.0 cm (Somerset White paper): 30 5/16 x 39 3/8 in. Exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Lucian Freud: The Painter's Etchings, 16 Dec 2007 - 10 Mar 2008
Shortly after Freud's homage to Chardin was complete, which had involved months of sitting in a grand, but windowless, hall of the National Gallery at night, the artist, in predictable fashion, decided to spend months gazing into the daylight and duly returned to paint his garden. He embarked upon the second and final large scale etching of the subject, which had its origins in the small, rare work of 1993, Landscape. It is entirely possible that in The Painter’s Garden Freud reaches the peak of his ambition, patience and attainment in taming the medium in this monumental, unbelievably complex rendering. The huge plate is incised, scored and marked to the very edges with an array of gestures that manages to retain extraordinary depth and detail despite the furious formation of intertwining, twisting, weaving lines that covers every small part of the image. Archeus
  • 2005-6 - The Painter's Garden - another of my favourites - and his last painting of plants and his garden.
“I don’t want colour to be noticeable. I want the colour to be the colour of life, so that you would notice it as being irregular if it changed. I don’t want it to operate in the modernist sense as colour, something independent.” Lucian Freud

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