LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)

Scillonian Beachscape

Details
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
Scillonian Beachscape
oil on canvas
20 1/4 x 30 1/8in. (51.5 x 76.5cm.)
Painted in 1945-1946
Provenance
Lefevre Gallery, London.
Collection of Fritz Hess, London.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 20 November 1974, lot 186.
Private Collection, London.
James Kirkman, London.
Collection of Simon Sainsbury, London.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature
M. Collis, 'The New Men', in The Observer, 11 May 1947, p. 2.
B. Bernard and D. Birdsall (eds.), Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 352, no. 53 (illustrated in colour, p. 81).
C. Gibbs, 'A Search for Beauty', in Simon Sainsbury Bequest to Tate and the National Gallery, London 2008, p. 16.
M. Gayford, Lucian Freud, vol. 1, London 2018, p. 323 (illustrated in colour, p. 124).
G. Aloi, Lucian Freud: Herbarium, London 2019 (illustrated in colour, pp. 80-81).
W. Feaver, The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth 1922-68, London 2019, pp. 215, 216 and 261.
M. Gayford, Lucian Freud, London 2022, p. 608 (illustrated in colour, p. 124).
D. Dawson and M. Gayford, Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud 1939-1954, London 2022, pp. 225 and 269.
R. Lindsay, ‘Lucian Freud Herbarium by Giovanni Aloi’, in Hortus, Summer 2022, no. 142.
Exhibited
London, Lefevre Gallery, Recent Paintings by Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, Robert Colquhoun, John Craxton, Lucian Freud, Robert MacBryde, Julian Trevelyan, 1946, p. 3, no. 31.
London, St George's Gallery, The New Generation: British Artists, 1947, no. 11.
Venice, XXVII Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte - British Pavilion, Exhibition of works by Nicholson, Bacon, Freud, 1954, no. 69.
London, Hayward Gallery, Lucian Freud, 1974, no. 33 (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.
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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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Executed in the winter of 1945-1946, Scillonian Beachscape is a rare and beautiful early painting by Lucian Freud. One of a handful of works inspired by a visit to the Isles of Scilly—Freud made several drawings on the islands, and completed this canvas back in London—it presents a dreamlike coastal scene in lush, sun-drenched colour. Captured in the crisp detail that defines Freud’s work of this period, a tall sea-holly rears up monumentally in the foreground, unfurling sharp, scalloped leaves. To the left, a puffin perches on a round, perfectly pitted pebble. With their precisely modelled shadows, the objects contrast with the backdrop’s stylised, near-abstract fields of colour: they stand on a golden beach, which gives way to bands of blue and turquoise sea, and a distant strip of cyan sky. Two dark islets slice through the water like fins. Freud’s early practice was dominated by plant and animal subjects before he shifted his focus to portraiture. Exceptional in its combination of these themes and its unusual outdoor setting, Scillonian Beachscape is also distinguished by its remarkable scale: at half a metre in height and three-quarters of a metre across, it is one of the very largest paintings Freud had made by this date. Previously held in the collection of Simon Sainsbury, the work was shown in the British Pavilion at the 1954 Venice Biennale alongside works by Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon, and later in Freud’s landmark first retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in 1974. It has been unseen in public since that year.

In the wake of the Second World War, when travel abroad was still difficult, the Isles of Scilly—an archipelago off the Cornish coast in southwest England—were as far south as one could holiday without leaving Britain. Freud set off for the Scillies in the summer of 1945 with his friend and roommate John Craxton, with whom he had recently moved to Delamere Terrace in Paddington. En route, they visited the artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, before sailing on the RMV Scillonian from Penzance to the largest island, St. Mary’s. They later stayed on Tresco to the north. The pair also tried to go one step further during their visit, unsuccessfully stowing away on a Breton fishing boat bound for France, where they hoped to see a Picasso exhibition in Paris. With their mild climate, exotic foliage and clear oceanic light, the Scillies had a distinct atmosphere that is lucidly distilled in Freud’s painting. ‘It was the most amazing place’, wrote Craxton. ‘Everything was reduced to one, because it was in the middle of the Atlantic. Here was the world by kind permission of this huge ocean!’ (J. Craxton, quoted in D. Dawson & M. Gayford (eds.), Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud 1939-1954, London 2022, p. 216).

Freud’s career-long fascination with plant life—presently the subject of the dedicated exhibition Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits, at the Garden Museum, London, until 5 March 2023—was seeded early during his time with the artist and horticulturalist Cedric Morris, under whom he studied at the East Anglian School in Dedham in 1939. He honed his gaze on graphic, crystalline forms such as thistles, palms and the present work’s sea-holly, capturing veins, stems and leaves with hard-lined concentration. As Giovanni Aloi writes, ‘the intense scrutiny that characterised Lucian Freud’s work led him to treat plants as subjects rather than passive objects … He pulled them from the background—where they had been relegated since the Renaissance—to the front of the canvas’ (G. Aloi, ‘Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits’, in Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits, exh. cat. The Garden Museum, London 2022, p. 60). In Scillonian Beachscape, this attention lends Freud’s sea-holly a looming, near-anthropomorphic presence: its placement foreshadows the formidable potted yucca in Interior at Paddington (1951, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), a plant no less characterful than the painting’s human sitter.

Freud was also captivated by animals during the 1940s. Dead monkeys, rabbits, and birds—including a splendid heron furnished by his girlfriend Lorna Wishart—offered exercises in focus, the artist mapping complexities of fur and feather with forensic attention. Prior to the present work Freud had already drawn an oil-bound puffin, found on a trip to Cornwall with Lorna in 1944. The bird in Scillonian Beachscape is very different from that deceased specimen, however: William Feaver recounts that it was an imagined addition, based on an engraving from Thomas Bewick’s 18th-century The History of British Birds. Perhaps not coincidentally, its cheerful, iconic profile also resembles the logo of the popular Puffin children’s picture books of the 1940s, with which Freud would certainly have been familiar: his rival Richard Chopping, a fellow student under Morris in Dedham, had illustrated the 1943 volume Butterflies of Britain.

Scillonian Beachscape’s invented construction lends it a theatrical, fantastical aspect—echoing Freud’s uncanny early work The Painter’s Room (1944), which features similar transformations of scale and colour, and the bringing to life of a stuffed zebra head—but this quality is not born of any direct interest in Surrealism, nor in composition as an end in itself. Idiosyncrasy, in Freud’s early work, was always a form of accuracy. The painting’s oneiric atmosphere befits the otherworldly aura of the islands, which John Betjeman had marvelled at in 1934: ‘Everything on the Scillies is in miniature, although once on the island one seems to be walking up hills and down valleys; the Scillies form a little world complete in themselves’ (J. Betjeman, quoted in W. Feaver, The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth 1922-1968, London 2019, p. 211).

In February 1946, Scillonian Beachscape was included in a mixed exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery on Bond Street, where Freud had made his debut two years earlier. Alongside works by other artists including Craxton, Nicholson, Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, Freud showed four paintings: Scillonian Beachscape, Dead Heron (1945), and two tense portraits of Lorna, Woman with a Tulip and Woman with a Daffodil (both 1945); the latter is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. These pictures share the present work’s dreamlike, votive sense of staging and sharp, northern medieval edge.

Freud’s relationship with Lorna came to an end shortly after his time in the Scillies, when she learned of an affair he had had with a girl there. In an attempt to win her back, he gave her a number of drawings, including a composition, absent the puffin, which prefigures Scillonian Beachscape. Seen in this light, its ominous black islets might be seen to reflect trouble in the water. Ultimately, however, the painting is a world unto itself: its vigilant detail and unfolding horizon set out, at the dawn of Freud’s career, a view of limitless possibility. In 1947, when the painting was shown at the St. George’s Gallery on Grosvenor Street, it caught the eye of the critic Maurice Collis. ‘Lucian Freud, who has returned from his travels, shows one painting, “Scillonian Beachscape,” which, in a manner both pellucid and rigid, academic and surrealist, modern and ancient, is extremely accomplished’, Collis wrote. ‘He brings together knowledge, industry and imagination, the certain recipe, I opine, of success’ (M. Collis, ‘The New Men’, The Observer, 11 May 1947, p. 2).

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