'Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter 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, Some Thoughts on Painting Encounter, July 1954, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, London 2002, p. 26).
An intimate moment, captured with the most intense and gentle scrutiny, Naked Portrait II belongs to a small, exquisite suite of paintings which Lucian Freud painted in the early 1970s of his celebrated lover, Jacquetta Eliot. Whilst the other works in the suite, Naked Portrait (1972-73) in the collection of Tate, London and Small Naked Portrait (1973-74) in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, have been in most of the major exhibitions and monographs of the artist, the present work has not been seen since it was acquired in 1977 by Magnus Konow from Marlborough gallery, save for an exhibition of recent work at Anthony dOffay in 1978. Hidden away for all this time, its discovery completes a masterful group of works which represented one of the first extensive painterly investigations into a nude figure in Freuds oeuvre. Painted around 1974, the year of his first major retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, in these works we see Freud delicately composing the body within the confines of the picture frame and examining the anatomy like never before. With its tender composition, featuring an extraordinary and loving depiction of Jacquetta asleep, in Naked Portrait II, the paint becomes flesh, delicately brushed onto the surface, something which has now become the hallmark of his distinguished ouevre. As well as this suite of smaller works, a naked Jacquetta featured alongside Freuds clothed mother in his celebrated and enigmatic Large Interior, W9 (1973), which is at Chatsworth, the home of his friend and patron, the late Duke of Devonshire.
In Naked Portrait II, Freud has presented Jacquetta in a moment of quiet serenity, a notion that is accentuated by its intimate scale and the manner in which Freud has composed her - bound within the pictures confines - within his dominion. Her legs seem perfectly poised crossed in sublime symmetry, her arm rests delicately on the sheet and her head peacefully rests with eyes closed. This is a private vision, a captured moment of contemplation, an insight into the studio, mind and world of the artist himself as he looks upon his resting lover, whose face is extraordinarily depicted as a picture of calm and relaxation.
In William Feavers recent monograph on Freud, he quotes Jacquetta recalling the rewards of sitting for the artist: champagne on dirty floorboards, as well as the charm of the artist himself and his electric presence behind the easel, often engaging her - funny and clever, urgent, and fantastically intimate (Jacquetta Eliot quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York, 2007, p. 24). The relationship between Freud and Jacquetta was clearly intense, and this is captured in the visceral scrutiny of his depictions of her, including Naked Portrait II. Feaver has described Jacquetta as bringing overt emotional stress to the night-time sessions... she submitted herself with some resentment, letting her thoughts roam and drift (W. Feaver quoted in 'Lucian Freud: Life into Art in W. Feaver (ed.) Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London 2002, p. 32). This is very much a privileged glimpse into a deeply personal realm and moment, as is also the case in the related picture in the Ashmolean, which is half the size of Naked Portrait II. That picture shows Jacquettas body crumpled, as though contorted into the composition of the picture itself, her eyes again closed, the model somehow unaware of the scrutiny to which she is submitting.
By contrast, in two other pictures in which Jacquetta is shown naked, she is depicted with her eyes open: in Naked Portrait in the Tate, she is gazing into the middle distance, towards a stool upon which are perched the attributes of Freuds own presence, his brushes. She is shown in a position that must have been comfortable to her, as it is very similar to that of Iaked Portrait II. However, those thoughts that Feaver mentioned are clearly passing through her mind as she submits to Naked Portrait, facing towards, yet not looking at, the artist. In Large Interior, W9, Jacquetta was shown lying on her back upon a bed, staring at the ceiling. Her body is glimpsed behind a chair upon which the artists mother was seated. In creating that picture, which recently featured in the acclaimed exhibition of Freuds portraits held at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Jacquetta and Lucie Freud did not pose together; however, Feaver recalled that, his mother did once hear the girlfriend smashing things in the next room (ibid, p. 32).
It is interesting to note that Freuds relationship with Jacquetta coincided with the passing of his father, Ernst, in 1970 and the associated commencement of an almost daily routine of painting his mother until her death in 1989. As Freud stated, If my father hadnt died Id never have painted her. I started working from her because she lost interest in me; I couldnt have, if she had been interested. (L. Freud quoted in Lucian Freud Portraits, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London 2012, p. 233). As such, Jacquetta and his mother were the almost exclusive subjects of his work in the early 1970s and this came together in one of his enigmatic masterpieces, Large Interior, W9. It recalls Old Master depictions of the various ages of man, yet has a power that is clearly personal and real, rather than merely allegorical.
While Large Interior, W9clearly explores the contrast between these two relationships, Naked Portrait II is focused on Jacquetta alone, to the exclusion of any details other than the simple backdrop of sheet and wall, although every inch of the canvas is lovingly transformed by the magic of his brush. This composition results in the intricate forms of the body leaping out in contrast, perfectly demonstrating Freuds masterful ability to capture the sense of flesh on canvas. The intimate scale of this picture means that Jacquetta appears like a fragile treasure, perched on the soft material. At the same time, there is that sense of Freuds incredible scrutiny. Looking at Naked Portrait II, the viewer cannot help but feel the sense of real, pulsing life that underpins the picture, the vitality of both the subject and, in the brushwork that is darting here and sweeping there, especially in the graceful curves of the thighs, the artist. In this way, Freud channeled his own feelings into this tender, discreetly powerful image. Jacquettas relationship with Freud lasted several years: a society beauty, she was mother to his son Francis, born in 1971, around three years before Naked Portrait II was painted. Nick-named Freddy, he later appeared in some of his fathers pictures, for instance Freddy Standing of 2001. A couple of years after Naked Portrait II was painted, Freud would show Jacquetta in the perhaps aptly-titled Last Portrait of 1975, an unfinished work which is now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid.