LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
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LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
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LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)


LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
oil on canvas
20 1⁄8 x 24 ¼ in. (51 x 61.5 cm.)
Painted in 1991-1992
Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner circa 1995.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
B. Bernard and D. Birdsall (eds.), Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 357, no. 252 (illustrated in colour, p. 298).C. Kennedy (ed.), IMMA Collection: Freud Project 2016-2021, Dublin 2016, p. 66 (illustrated in colour, p. 67).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucian Freud: recent work, 1993-1994, p. 185, no. 83 (illustrated in colour, p. 166). This exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.  
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, Bacon-Freud. Expressions, 1995, pp. 178 and 208, no. 67 (illustrated in colour, p. 179).
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA Collection: Freud Project. Inaugural Exhibition, 2016-2017.
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA Collection: Freud Project. Gaze, 2018-2019.
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2016-2021 (on long-term loan).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A triumph of human observation, Kai (1991-1992) is a tender and intimate depiction of the man whom Lucian Freud considered a son. Reclining in regal profile, his features are sculpted to precision, infused with the nobility and iconicity of a Byzantine saint or marble bust. The work stands among Freud’s finest single-head portraits, representing a magnificent successor to the 1986-1987 masterpiece Girl with Closed Eyes. Kai was the son of Freud’s former lover Suzy Boyt, and the artist became a beloved father-figure to him over the years, placing him centre stage in his historic family portrait Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) (1981-1983). Reminiscent of many of Freud’s own self-portraits, the present painting is a work of immaculate scrutiny, every inch of Kai’s flesh and hair alive with light, colour and movement. It was acquired directly from the artist circa 1995, two years after it was unveiled in his landmark touring retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. There, it signalled a profound new chapter of international acclaim and ambition, taking its place alongside the ground-breaking portraits of Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley that would propel his career to bold and daring new heights.

Kai captures the virtuosic flourishing of Freud’s painterly technique during this extraordinary period. Its closely-cropped format brings the artist’s brushwork under a rigorous magnifying lens, every stroke of his hog’s hair paintbrush trained upon some tiny modulation of shadow or ripple of light. Just as Bernini translated marble into matter, here Freud transfigures pigment into flesh. Rich impasto textures transform Kai’s face and chest into a near-sculptural landscape, rippled with luminous skeins of blue, peach, violet and olive. His Adam’s apple is rendered in exquisite volumetric detail; flashes of yellow bring his blonde colouring to life. Its intimate framing echoes other exceptional portrait heads of the 1980s and 1990s, including the jewel-like Leigh Bowery (1991, Tate, London). Its sharp profile image calls to mind the piercing Reflection (Self Portrait) (1981-1982), while its raw, unflinching detail anticipates the monumental Painter Working (Reflection) (1993). ‘The paste overloads the earlobe, around the nostril’, writes Jean-Louis Prat, ‘and becomes an extraordinary tangle at the height of the jawbone. A beautiful piece of painting’ (J-L. Prat, quoted in Bacon-Freud, Expressions, exh. cat. Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence 1995, p. 178).

Freud and Kai spent many hours in each other’s company. Kai frequently helped out around his studio in Holland Park, becoming a regular companion to the artist over the years. It was there that he sat for Freud’s restaging of Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot Content (circa 1712), featuring alongside his mother Suzy, Freud’s new lover Celia Paul and the artist’s daughter Bella. Freud would later name Kai—who occupied the position of Pierrot—as the main subject of the painting. By the time of the present work, Kai was managing a music group and travelling Mauritius, but continued to spend time assisting Freud in the studio. He featured in an extraordinary etching of 1991-1992, and was intended as the subject for the painting that eventually became Girl in Attic Doorway (1995), before the artist realised he was too tall for the hatch. Freud saw Kai as one of his own children, and the two remained close through the decades. He was one of very few people present at the artist’s bedside when he died, and served as a pallbearer at his funeral.

Kai is situated at the pinnacle of a decade defined by a renewed focus on Freud’s children. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, his growing offspring came to dominate his art, each painting a record of rekindled familiarity after years of childhood absence. At the centre of this body of work were the five Boyt siblings. Freud and Suzy had met in the 1950s, when she was studying at the Slade School of Art in London. She featured in the pivotal portrait Woman Smiling (1958-1959), which marked Freud’s early embrace of naturalist impasto. Together they had four children: Ali, Rose, Ib and Susie. Ali and Rose appeared as youngsters in Reflection with Two Children (Self-Portrait) (1965), while seven-year-old Ib sat for Large Interior, Paddington (1968-1969). After Suzy removed them from school to sail to Trinidad—a wild adventure in which baby Kai famously fell overboard—the five children reconnected with Freud during adolescence. Kai takes its place within the stream of tender portraits that emerged over the years, each a testament to the siblings’ evolving relationships with their father.

At the same time, Kai also marks the dawn of a thrilling new period in Freud’s career. The majestic, voluptuous figures of Bowery—a performance artist—and Tilley—the famed ‘benefits supervisor’—brought about a significant change in Freud’s art. Their bodies unfurled across the canvas like vast, fossilised landscapes. New colours were mixed for every brushstroke; new textures abounded with every mark. Kai dramatises many of these new techniques, its gestural intensity played out to epic proportions in works such as Naked Man, Back View (1991-1992, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994). Freud’s newly-secured partnership with the American gallerist William Acquavella propelled these works—and his reputation—to global stardom. The 1993 Whitechapel retrospective, which travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, was labelled the ‘hottest ticket in town’, with one newspaper comparing Freud’s fame to that of Madonna, and another naming him ‘the greatest living figure painter’ (P. Hoban, Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open, London 2014, p. 132).

Amid this flurry of professional triumph, however, Freud never lost sight of the essential purpose of his art. As he celebrated his seventieth birthday, he remained quietly committed to the principles—and, indeed, the subjects—that lay at the beating heart of his practice. Paint had offered Freud a means of connecting with his sprawling family, and a vehicle through which to know them. By painting those closest to him—‘and who closer than my children?’—he in turn unlocked new possibilities for painting, transforming pigment from a tool for depiction to a living incarnation of the person that lay before him (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, London 2002, p. 20). Here, in unrelenting detail, Freud embalms the hours he spent with Kai in the studio. As Prat suggests, the angle of the portrait recalls a child falling asleep: in this case, however, ‘the child simply grew up’ (J-L. Prat, ibid.). Over the following decades, Freud would become more aware than ever of the passage of time. Here he seals his relationship with Kai upon canvas, preserving him forever in paint.

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