Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION
Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Gorse Sprig

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Gorse Sprig
signed and dated 'Lucian Freud 44' (lower right)
conté pencil and crayon on Ingres paper
18 x 12in. (45.8 x 30.5cm.)
Executed in 1944
Fritz Hess, London.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 12 November 1975, lot 55.
James Kirkman, London.
Mary Glasgow C.B.E.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 15 February 2012, lot 37.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
B. Bernard and D. Birdsall (eds.), Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 352, no. 52 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
S. Smee and R. Calvocoressi (eds.), Lucian Freud on Paper, London 2008, no. 70 (illustrated in colour, p. 116).
London, Lefevre Gallery, New Paintings and Drawings by Lucian Freud, Felix Kelly and Julian Trevelyan, 1944, no. 18.
London, Hayward Gallery; Lucian Freud, 1974, no. 26 (illustrated, p. 44). This exhibition later travelled to Bristol, Bristol City Art Gallery; Birmingham, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and Leeds, Leeds City Museum and Art Gallery.
London, Hayward Gallery, Lucian Freud Works on Paper, 1988-1989, p. 122, no. 17 (illustrated in colour, p. 41). This exhibition later travelled to Oxford, Ashmolean Museum; Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery; Hull Ferens Art Gallery; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Art; New York, Brooke Alexander Gallery; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art and Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum.
Rome, Palazzo Ruspoli, Lucian Freud: Dipinti e opere su carta 1940-1991, 1991-1992, p. 110, no. 53 (illustrated in colour, p. 80). This exhibition later travelled to Milan, Castello Sforzesco and Liverpool, Tate Gallery.
Tochiyi, Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Lucian Freud, 1992-1993, p. 89, no. 42 (illustrated in colour, p. 61). This exhibition later travelled to Nishinomiya, Otani Memorial Art Museum; Tokyo, Steagaya Art Museum; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia.
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lucian Freud: Early Works, 1993-1994, p. 51.
London, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, Lucian Freud: Early Works 1940-58, 2008, p. 18, no. 6 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Brought to you by

Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘A picture had become, and perhaps in a sense still is, a unique order of apparition, a spectre of the real. One remembers the little pictures as sharpened by their minuteness, as if to pierce the eye and haunt it. Sharpened equally by the penetrating authenticity, which made them irresistible and captivating’ —L. GOWING

‘As the war drew to a close he sharpened his newly hatched habit of scrutiny on a series of spiky, asymmetrical, and sometimes moribund botanical forms – a sprig of gorse, a branch of sea holly, three cuttings of Scotch Thistle, a potted castor oil plant – each study charged with the same adamant, clean-lined peculiarity as his portraits’ —S. SMEE

‘Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, the modelling. See what remains after that’ —INGRES

Gorse Sprig (1944) is an exquisite early drawing by Lucian Freud, included in the first major exhibition of his career at Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery in 1944. Freud models a cutting of gorse in pencil and crayon upon a plain sheet of paper, whose blankness amplifies the bold lucidity of line with which he describes the plant’s form. The colours are radiant: its minute malachite spines of leaves, vivid yellow blossoms and blue-furred seedpods are brought into being with crystalline clarity. Subtle variegations convey the twig’s coarse bark and brittle portions of dead foliage. Anticipating his intense portrayals of people, this work displays the astonishing exactitude of vision typical of Freud’s early drawings. In its unerring totality, his subject is accorded a sense of microcosmic significance. Albrecht Dürer’s Northern Renaissance masterpieces Young Hare (1502) and The Great Piece of Turf (1503), prints of which hung in Freud’s boyhood apartment in Berlin, are forerunners in their lyrical beauty and unwavering, clear-sighted treatment of detail. By the pivotal year of 1944, Freud had developed an extraordinary eye that was entirely his own. As Bruce Bernard relates, ‘in 1944 the prestigious Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery, then in New Bond Street, hung several of his [works], establishing Freud as the figure he would continue to be – entirely singular, intriguing and provocative’ (B. Bernard, ‘Thinking about Lucian Freud,’ in B. Bernard & D. Birdsall, Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 11).

The jewel-like resolution of Gorse Sprig is born of a preternatural talent and focus, evident in Freud from an early age. Lawrence Gowing recalls that ‘People who met Freud in his middle teens, and a lot of people did, recognized his force immediately; fly, perceptive, lithe, with a hint of menace. I met him first in the winter of 1938-39 when he was fifteen or sixteen and already spoken of as a boy-wonder’ (L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, p. 9). The Freuds had moved from Berlin to London in 1933; the young Lucian spent the year of 1938 at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, before joining Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School in 1939. Despite accidentally burning the school down through careless smoking, he stayed on with Morris, painting flowerpots and cacti in the artist’s stable in Langham. After a brief spell in the Merchant Navy in 1942, he returned to the school’s new location at Hadleigh, Sussex, upon whose coast he likely gathered the cutting immortalised in Gorse Sprig. Freud’s needle-fine linear precision is brought to bear aptly on his barbed subject. He painted portraits only occasionally during this period, for the most part studying inanimate things: fruit and flowers, dead birds and monkeys, plants, tables and taxidermy fill his early drawings and paintings. ‘As the war drew to a close,’ Sebastian Smee observes, ‘he sharpened his newly hatched habit of scrutiny on a series of spiky, asymmetrical, and sometimes moribund botanical forms – a sprig of gorse, a branch of sea holly, three cuttings of Scotch Thistle, a potted castor oil plant – each study charged with the same adamant, clean-lined peculiarity as his portraits’ (L. Freud, quoted in S. Smee, ‘Introduction,’ in S. Smee & R. Calvocoressi, Lucian Freud on Paper, London 2008, p. 7).

Freud undoubtedly enjoyed the formal qualities of these jagged ‘botanical forms,’ which bring his crisp, faceted gaze to a near-hallucinatory clearness. A fondness for plants – perhaps seeded in him by Morris, who was both a painter and a horticulturist – also runs through his later work, often offsetting his sitters to vivid effect. Unforgettable examples include the dramatic, adversarial presence of the potted yucca in Interior at Paddington (1951), or the pellucid plane leaves spreading over Freud’s daughter Isobel in Large Interior, Paddington (1968-9). In a return to the delicate scrutiny of his early drawings, he would later paint the densely intricate Two Plants (1977- 80), a detail of his garden in which, as Gowing notes, ‘the innumerable leaves have an almost physiognomic life in common, making faces together’ (L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, p. 202). Through Freud’s immaculate inspection, Gorse Sprig likewise elevates its humble shrub to a gripping spectacle.

Gowing writes vividly of the unmistakable particularity of Freud’s work of the 1940s, and of the central role of drawing in his development. ‘I first knew this quality of liveliness, for which I should prefer a word that did not suggest animation or wholesomeness, when I think as much of a coiled vigilance and a sharpness in which one could imagine venom (my critical equipment was primitive and my sympathies limited) – knew it as a quality of drawing, one that was intrinsic to line and indeed to edges. Freud’s view of a subject was marked from the first by a serpentine litheness in the ready, rapid way in which an object was confronted, the object of intellectual curiosity or sociable advantage or desire – it was apt then to be all of them at once. A personal flavour unlike any one had known was communicating itself to art; it still does … one feels the quality of sharpened perception and pointed response that makes one think of the lowered muzzle of some hunting creature, and think with involuntary admiration, unless it is apprehension’ (L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, p. 7). Indeed, there is a sort of mercilessness at play in Freud’s hawkeyed approach – an unremitting honesty goes straight to the nerve of being, and which treats all subjects with equal intensity. As a record of his matchless, concentrated alertness, Gorse Sprig is electrically beautiful. The work displays Freud’s faith in what Ingres called the ‘probity’ of drawing, in its absolute vitality as a way of looking at the world. Freud’s commitment is uncompromising, complete and compulsive, fired with the urgency of a moral imperative: the gorse sprig, once realised, looks as if it could not possibly have been any other way.

More from Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All