Painted in 2001, Lucian Freud’s double portrait Julie and Martin captures a young couple in a moment of serene intimacy. A naked woman, half draped in a white robe, lies upon a rumpled bed sheet, resting her head upon her companion’s lap in blissful repose. Gazing into the distance, with his back against the bare wall, he places a hand upon her chest whilst the other caresses her hair.
The woman is Julie Radford, a former social services worker who sat for several important paintings from this period. Having previously featured anonymously, her name is finally revealed in this painting, along with that of her then-boyfriend Martin.
As the last of four canvases for which she sat, the work represents the culmination of Freud’s paintings of Julie. The year before Julie and Martin was painted, she had modeled alongside Freud’s son Freddy Eliot in the celebrated work After Cézanne, 2000 (National Gallery of Australia), which was exhibited directly next to this painting in the artist’s landmark retrospective at the Tate Britain, London, in 2002.
Julie sat for the artist during one of the most exciting periods of his portrait practice. Indeed, it was in 2001 that Freud completed his prestigious royal commission HM Queen Elizabeth II (Royal Collection Trust), cementing his reputation as the leading portrait artist of his time. Julie and Martin is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 12 November, and here Julie Radford talks about her experiences sitting for one of the world’s foremost painters.
‘I enjoyed a few glasses of his good champagne while he cooked for me’
How did you meet Lucian Freud?
Julie Radford: ‘I was friends with Sue Tilley [another of Freud’s sitters and the subject of his painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995] and had mentioned that I would love to meet Lucian. I believe she described me and arranged for us to meet at Le Caprice for dinner. We got on well, although I was very nervous, he asked me to go back with him that night as he would like to paint me. Although he was very polite and I was incredibly excited by the thought I declined that night but said I would love to sit for him another time.’
What were you doing at the time you met Freud?
‘I was working with dementia sufferers at a local day centre in north London. I was 25 and having just been dumped by Sue’s brother, I jumped at the chance for some excitement. We arranged a sitting for the next day. I was so nervous I enjoyed a few glasses of his good champagne while he cooked for me and I built up the courage to sit or rather remove my clothes for someone I didn't know! This was the start of Naked Portrait with Green Chair. Face Down came about as he had been on the phone for ages and came back to find me sleeping in that position, so when the first painting came to an end I was thrilled when he said he wanted to do another painting and would like me to lay in that position (It meant I could sleep!).’
Can you remember how Julie and Martin came about? Who was the other sitter?
‘Martin was my boyfriend by that stage. I obviously spoke about him during previous sittings; I was madly in love at the time. Lucian heard about all my dates and nights out and was more than happy to give his opinion. I think he wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Martin wanted to be an actor so this was a good opportunity for him to go to college in the day and sit at night. Martin had told me he would rather keep his clothes on, so Lucian knew this and the expectation was that he would be wearing clothes. Lucian was more interested in us being in a natural and comfortable position than arranging things how he wanted them. I was lucky that way with all my pictures. This one was very comfortable actually and it was nice to have a bit of my gown covering me.’
What was it like to sit for Freud? How long did the painting take?
‘I loved sitting, it was kind of cathartic and mostly Lucian told me stories of his other sitters. At one point he was painting the Queen during the day and me at night so I heard the odd tale or two. He spoke about the things he got up to in his younger days, which were always very entertaining, especially the family stories. During breaks from painting he wanted me to talk, but when he was painting he did all the talking and it was my favourite bit. As a sitter, for the time you are there, it is like you are the only person in the world he cares about. I think getting to know me was important to him in making the picture work, it’s a very intimate process. Julie and Martin took about six months, there was less talking and dinners out being three of us, so we got on with the painting more. We sat for about three or four nights per week from about 7pm until he felt he wanted to stop, usually in the early hours of the morning.’
‘By the time he painted the last painting he had learnt my body very well’
What was Freud’s painting process like?
‘This was fascinating to watch, each brush stroke seemed to use different colours and every millimetre was examined by him standing back and looking at the whole picture. He was looking so long, although I feel that by the time he painted the last painting he had learnt my body very well. Some nights there seemed to be very little change, yet on others large parts of the canvass seemed to be filled although he rarely left an area alone without adding further definition and layers of paint. To anyone else you would think it’s finished, but there could be many weeks before he was happy. Often he would get frustrated with how things were going and stamp his feet, then disappear off to talk on the phone.’
What was his studio like?
‘Julie and Martin was the only painting I did in his house at Kensington Church Street. This studio was used less at the time but it still had the obligatory pile of rags and thick encrusted oil paint on the walls from cleaning off his pallet knife.The studio was never cleared of debris, just set up by David Dawson before I arrived to make sure things were in the right place. It was full of bits of furniture used in other paintings and of course his lovely whippet, Pluto.’
Do you recall any anecdotes from the time you sat for him?
‘Lucian was very nice to me. I know I was lucky. He treated me well and treated my mum and I to a trip to New York when he had an exhibition. He was always more interested in what people thought than he ever let on. He always put the heater on for me too! After the first painting he asked if I would sit more and give up my job to be at his beck and call, which I was very happy to do! Then we did After Cézanne during the day and started Face Down and I often stayed over in the studio while he went home. We didn't have an intimate relationship but we were very close and Lucian made it clear in his own way he enjoyed me sitting for him, although he once said if I didn't turn up he could use a parsnip which he said replicated my skin colouring! It was made very clear that I should never get a suntan or change my body in anyway, as the paintings took so long I needed to look the same throughout, also no shaving or weight loss! He often commented on my hip/waist ratio and thought it was "amazing".’
Tell us a bit about the other paintings you sat for…
The first one was Naked Portrait With Green Chair, then Night Portrait, Face Down followed by After Cézanne which was a day picture with Freddy and Sarah, then Julie and Martin was the last one. We all got on well together with lively conversation, so although the dynamics were different it was a fabulous time for me to spend evenings with my boyfriend and Lucian.’