During the 1940s, in the aftermath of the Second World War, London was a ‘pretty bleak, bomb-scarred place’, says art critic and TV presenter Alastair Sooke. There was, however, one exception: Soho — ‘London’s louche party realm’.
Soho’s Gargoyle Club, situated on a corner of Dean Street, was founded by the aristocratic socialite David Tennant. As Sooke explains, it ‘quickly became a gathering place for artists like Augustus John, Francis Bacon and also the young Lucian Freud.’
David Tennant’s daughter Pauline was an actress and poet born in 1929. Strikingly beautiful, she would cause ‘a real stir’ whenever she entered the club. ‘I feel that Freud has managed to reflect a sense of that intensity of the male gaze upon Pauline,’ says Sooke as he takes a closer look at Freud’s drawing, A Girl (Pauline Tennant), executed circa 1945.
‘There’s something about early Lucian Freud that I just love,’ the critic continues. ‘Every single mark is meticulous. It’s not overdone, there are just a few highlights to suggest the ripple of light across the blouse that she’s wearing.’
It’s clear, Sooke concludes, that the artist was completely transfixed by the beauty that he saw before him, a woman with whom he was supposed to have had a brief romantic liaison.
At this stage of his career Freud considered himself a ‘draughtsman first and foremost’, and this drawing is typical of how he went about making art in the 1940s. ‘He became known for this very intense, close study of the subject,’ adds Sooke, who explains how Freud drew Pauline Tennant’s eyes with a ‘sense of magnification that enhances the general intensity of the image.’
Infatuation with arresting beauty has always compelled artists to produce masterpieces, and A Girl (Pauline Tennant) is one of a number of portraits of artist muses included in Christie’s 250th anniversary sale, Defining British Art, which is to be held in London on the evening of 30 June 2016.