Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED LADY
Lucian Freud (1922-2011)


Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
signed and dated ‘LUCIAN Freud Dec 44’ (lower right)
pencil on paper
12½ x 9½in. (31.8 x 24.3cm.)
Executed in 1944
Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired circa 1944-45).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
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.

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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’
–Lawrence Gowing

‘In those early years, between adolescence and his late twenties, Freud drew like a young man possessed … As Freud hit his stride in his twenties, his drawing underwent a process of contraction and concentration, conferring on his best pictures an almost electrical charge of objective intensity’
–Sebastian Smee

Held in the same private collection for over seven decades and never before seen in public, Untitled (1944) is a searingly beautiful example of Lucian Freud’s early practice. Freud employs a resolute graphite line to depict a chicken, hovering against a blank page as if tattooed in space. Laid on its back with eyes closed and claws splayed, the bird is drawn with the young Freud’s unmistakable, clear-sighted sharpness. His unwavering attention brings each feather, each scale of the bird’s talons, each minute dimple on its wattle to electrifying life. Freud’s total devotion to what he sees is palpable. He maps the tousled ruff of the chicken’s neck, its neat, overlapping breast plumage and the scalloped quills of its wings with surgical precision. The vivid assurance of his mark-making transforms the bird into a thing of heraldic dignity and splendour. Signed ‘Dec 44’, the work was executed around the time of Freud’s twenty-second birthday.

‘If you look at Chardin’s animals,’ Freud once said, ‘they’re absolute portraits. It’s to do with the individuality and the intensity of the regard and the focus on the specific. So I think portraiture is an attitude. Painting things as symbols and rhetoric and so on doesn’t interest me’ (L. Freud, quoted in S. Smee, ‘A Late-Night Conversation with Lucian Freud,’ in Freud at Work, New York 2006, p. 33). It is precisely this ‘intensity of the regard and the focus on the specific’ that makes Freud’s early drawings so unforgettable, and his direct, unsentimental captivation with dead animals so crucial a part of his artistic development. Clearly related to celebrated works such as Dead Bird (1943), Chicken in a Bucket (1944), Dead Monkey (c.1944) and Rabbit on a Chair (1944), the chicken’s seraphic pose and Freud’s crystalline treatment of its feathers also link it directly to the magnificent painting Dead Heron (1945), arguably the masterpiece of his early animal studies. Lawrence Gowing could have been discussing the present work when he described the latter’s ‘ruffled plumage within such an impeccable edge, cut like a stencil … Tattered ends of feather and rumpled barbs fray into claw-like splinters … The resolution is definite and unarguable without a sign of anything softened or spared’ (L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, p. 24).

The jewel-like resolution of works like Untitled is born of a preternatural talent evident in Freud from an early age. After an on-and-off period of learning from Cedric Morris at the East Anglian School, Freud moved in 1943 to a house on Delamere Terrace, Paddington, where he would spend the next three decades. It was here that his life as an artist truly began. By the year of 1944, which saw his first major solo exhibition at Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery, he had developed an extraordinary eye that was entirely his own. Freud made portraits only occasionally during this formative period, for the most part honing his gaze on inanimate things. Lemons, thistles, the stuffed head of a zebra, dead fish, birds and monkeys fill his early works. Drawing would dominate Freud’s work until around 1950, when he met Francis Bacon. With an unfolding fascination for human subjects, he resolved from then on to concentrate on painting. While this new painterly focus would yield the incomparable mature idiom of emotional and bodily force for which Freud is today best known, the needle-sharp magic of his early drawings endures. Renouncing drawing was a courageous move from an artist who always refused to settle into the atrophy of style. As Nicholas Penny has written of this moment, ‘it is hard to think of another artist who turned his back on so much’ (N. Penny, Lucian Freud: Works on Paper, exh. cat. South Bank Centre, London, 1988, p. 14).

Gowing writes vividly of the unique particularity of Freud’s work of the 1940s. ‘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 lithe, hawkeyed approach – an unremitting honesty that goes straight to the nerve of being. For all its poignant sensitivity, Untitled is also an exhilarating record of Freud’s matchless, concentrated alertness. Throbbing with distinct and singular spirit, the dead bird 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 work, once seen, is irrevocable, ingrained forever in the eye of the mind.

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