Lucian Freud's works need no explanation or introduction -- they live. This is clear in Ib and her Husband, an extraordinarily intimate, tender and powerful portrait of the artist's daughter Isobel and her partner Pat Costelloe at the time. For much of the time when they sat the couple were expecting their third child, Alice. Freud's portraits are intimate visions of life and people around him. He paints those he is close to and his familiar surroundings; he has hardly ever used professional models and only exceptionally taken commissions. His works are set in his studio and accordingly, we see the different people in his life coming in and out of life and studio alike: friends, lovers and of course his family and children who have provided the subject matter for many of his most important paintings. In a sense, every work is a personal encounter and everything he paints is a portrait. Despite the absence of sentimentality, there is nonetheless an intriguing tenderness in family paintings like Ib and her Husband.
In this painting, Ib and Pat are huddled together on a soft brown rug, in a small bed, the tattered, paint-strewn wall of the studio visible, with a distinctly utilitarian radiator in the background. There is something so unadorned, so honest, that this becomes more than a portrait, but instead an insight into the life of Isobel, her relationship with her husband, the arrival of their child and, crucially, her relationship with her father, the painter. The viewer has been afforded a privileged glimpse into the unglamorous surroundings of the artist's studio, and therefore into Freud's own private life and world. This is heightened by the presence of the storm-like swirls of paint above the couple, where the artist has scraped his brushes against the studio wall again and again over the years. These convey the sense that the couple are refugees, successfully finding shelter in each other's company from some form of adversity. At the same time, the fact that these daubs of paint have been captured by Freud through the use of real, impastoed daubs of paint on the canvas bridges the gap between the represented and the real, bringing this group closer to our own world.
Isobel Boyt has featured in several of Freud's paintings. She was already shown as a child in Large Interior, Paddington, painted in 1968-69, where she was sprawled on the floor. Close-up views that give a sense of intense proximity have also featured the sitter painted at the ages of 16, 23 and 28; there is also a later oil depicting Ib reading, painted some time after Ib and her Husband. Freud's paintings of his daughter are filled with a sense of awareness -- the awareness of the viewer that we are witnessing a private aspect of the painter's life, that we are almost voyeuristically implicated in the relationship between them. The fact that there is such personal baggage between painter and sitter is reflected in Isobel's own words. Discussing sitting for her father, she has stated that, 'Each time I did a picture with him I swore I'd never do it again, but I then do because it is a way of having a relationship with my dad as well as there is a part of me that if he wants to paint me I am quite flattered' (I. Boyt, quoted in J. Auerbach and W. Feaver, Sitting for Freud, BBC 2004). A collaborative product between father and daughter, these paintings are pictorial articulations of a personal as well as familial dialogue: 'I see each picture as representing a period in my life it is more than a snap shot, 6 months or something is substantial enough period to have had to see how you felt that time, your state of mind, your concerns and what you were going through encapsulated' (Ibid.). Naming his sitters is something Freud rarely does, and so in these family pictures it doubled as a means of formally and publicly acknowledging his children through his art.
Being scrutinized for hour upon hour, day upon day by Freud, a painstaking artist notorious for taking months and even years over his works, must be rigorous for anyone, let alone someone with a complex relationship with him. Being a sitter for Freud involves a strange and unique strain, especially for his family members. One suspects that he too is aware of this: "You're living and your relationships grow and mature or decay" (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, "Lucian Freud: Life into Art" pp. 12-50, W. Feaver, ed., Lucian Freud, exh. cat., London, 2002, p. 43).
There is a strong sense of authenticity in Ib and her Husband that reflects this deep mining of the painter's and the sitters' experiences and chemistry. This truly shows the success of Freud's decision to paint the people around him: "Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter, working with the object in front of them, or constantly in mind, do so in order to translate life into art almost literally, as it were. The painter makes real to others his innermost feelings about all that he cares for" (L. Freud, quoted in Ibid., pp. 26-27). This fills Freud's paintings with the sense of existential earnestness for which they are celebrated. And it is an effect that is achieved in part because as well as charting the tensions of his relationship with his daughter and son-in-law in this painting, he has also shown them at their ease: "we were very close when it was painted, as well as physically close" (I. Boyt, quoted in J. Auerbach and W. Feaver, Sitting for Freud, BBC 2004). It is the artist's habit to allow his sitters to find a position in which they are comfortable before painting them, and as such it is all the more intriguing an insight into Isobel's life that she and her partner have placed themselves in this way, lying clothed together under the gaze of her father. There are practical considerations in allowing the sitter to find a position in which he or she is comfortable, not least considering the many hours that Freud takes in his sessions in order to render the scene. Indeed, he refuses even to paint the background of his works without the sitter there, believing that their physical presence exerts subtle changes on the entire environment. Crucially, though, in allowing the sitters to find positions in which they are comfortable, in which they are at ease, Freud manages to capture all the more authentically an aspect of their personality.