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 BRITISH COLLECTION
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)

Girl with Closed Eyes

Details
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
Girl with Closed Eyes
oil on canvas
18 1⁄4 x 23 3⁄4in. (46.3 x 60.4cm.)
Painted in 1986-1987
Provenance
James Kirkman, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987.
Literature
B. Bernard and D. Birdsall (eds.), Lucian Freud, London 1996, p. 356, no. 202 (illustrated in colour, p. 227).
W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, p. 477, no. 218 (illustrated in colour, p. 237).
W. Feaver, The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968-2011, London 2020, p. 187.
Exhibited
Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Lucian Freud Paintings, 1987-88, p. 133, no. 98 (illustrated in colour, p. 127). This exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée national d'art moderne; London, Hayward Gallery and Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie.
Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, 2005, pp. 124 and 198, no. 45 (illustrated in colour, p. 125).
Salzburg, Museum der Moderne Salzburg Mönchsberg, A Guest of Honour, From Francis Bacon to Peter Doig, 2008, p. 65 (illustrated in colour, p. 25).
Cardiff, National Museum Cardiff, Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection, 2017-2018, p. 44 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

A masterpiece of frank, tender observation, Girl with Closed Eyes (1986-1987) is among the most exquisite of Lucian Freud’s triumphant 1980s portraits. Reclined on a bed in his Holland Park studio, Freud’s sitter, Janey Longman, is caught as if in reverie. The painting is suffused with love, and bespeaks a relationship of ease and understanding between artist and muse. Her eyes are closed, her lips parted, and her head turned serenely to one side. Her dark hair spills onto the mattress, with Freud’s thick, tactile impasto teasing each strand into tousled life. From the soft swell of her breast to the tauter lines of throat and clavicle and her complex, expressive face, he maps her skin’s every freckle, sheen and furrow with rapt attention. His palette ranges from shadowed, venous blues to ochres, mauves and flashes of Cremnitz white: its translucent beauty recalls his magnificent early portraits of Lady Caroline Blackwood. Acquired by the present owners in 1987, the painting has remained in the same private collection for the past thirty-five years.

Shortly after its completion, Girl with Closed Eyes was included in the landmark 1987-1988 touring retrospective Lucian Freud: Paintings, which travelled from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, the Hayward Gallery, London, and Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie. The exhibition led Robert Hughes to declare Freud ‘the greatest living realist painter’ (R. Hughes, ‘On Lucian Freud’, in Lucian Freud: Paintings, exh. cat. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1987, p. 7). ‘I have no doubt—nor will those who see his exhibition—that Lucian Freud belongs, and is aware that he belongs, to the aristocracy of the masters’, wrote the Washington Post’s Paul Richard (P. Richard, ‘The Faces of Freud’, The Washington Post, 15 September 1987). Sounding timeless echoes of Courbet, Titian and Velázquez in its surface, the present work is a luminous affirmation of this statement.

In 2005, Girl with Closed Eyes was shown in another major survey of Freud’s work at the Museo Correr, Venice, curated by William Feaver. The critic Sarah Milroy singled out the painting as a jewel. ‘No part of her is taken for granted, and each contour is freshly observed’, Milroy wrote. ‘Her upper lip alone deserves a paragraph or two, sagging as it does slightly from gravity in her relaxed state, and her head is tipped back to allow us a view up her nostrils, which serve in the picture, subliminally, as portals to the skull beneath. In Freud’s vision, as in his grandfather’s, it is such little imperfections and morbidities that burnish beauty. Freud has caught his subject in her flight from birth to grave, her still, childlike face revealing the furrowing weight of experience as flesh melts away’ (S. Milroy, ‘Peeling away the layers of Freud’, The Globe and Mail, 22 June 2005).

Indeed, this total, unflinching truth to what he sees allows Freud to seemingly capture life itself on canvas. Without recourse to symbolism or narrative, he realises a desire for ‘paint to work as flesh’: the painting is alive with the sensuousness of a person, the push and pull of muscle, the pulse of blood beneath the skin. Stripped naked in the fullest sense, however, Freud’s sitters also bespeak an essential, interior privacy. More even than his forthright depiction of the body, it is the works’ sense of truly trying to see a person—of reaching across the space between self and other, and sounding out the unknown—that gives them their startling intimacy. With her eyes closed, it is unclear whether the girl is awake or asleep, blissfully vulnerable or playing with being observed: she captures the tension between exposure and mystery that makes Freud’s portraits so vividly, irrevocably human. The flicker of a smile, a trace of delight, plays across her face.

Freud also depicted Janey Longman in Naked Girl (1985-1986) and later, alongside India Jane Birley, in the major canvas Two Women (1992). In his sixties, his paintings increasingly reflected a warm, relaxed emotional environment, moving on from the more fraught settings that had defined his earlier years. He was also working with greater formal ambition than ever before. His style had gradually evolved from the hard-lined, iconic precision of the 1950s towards a richly physiognomic approach, his oil paint growing thicker and his brushes firmer. Over dozens or hundreds of hours of sittings, he would comb and caress his portraits into near-sculptural being. Taking advantage of the large, well-lit studio in his Holland Park flat, he began to experiment with complex multi-figure compositions such as the theatrical Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) (1981-1983), and Double Portrait (1985-1986), which sees Susanna Chancellor entwined with Freud’s whippet, Pluto. He painted a widening circle of friends, lovers and business acquaintances, as well as his teenage children Esther and Bella Freud and Ib and Susie Boyt. His towering self-portrait of 1985 pictures an artist at the height of his powers.

In the summer of 1987, shortly before his retrospective opened at the Hirshhorn, Freud was invited to choose twenty-nine paintings for ‘The Artist’s Eye’ exhibition series at the National Gallery in London. Foregrounding his dialogue with the Old Masters, his selection included seven by Rembrandt, three by Constable, three by Degas, and two by Ingres. ‘What do I ask of a painting?’ he wrote in the catalogue. ‘I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince’ (L. Freud, The Artists Eye: Lucian Freud: an Exhibition of National Gallery Paintings Selected by the Artist, exh. cat. National Gallery, London 1987, n.p.). It is a demand amply fulfilled by the present work, whose bold framing, visceral brushwork and acute sensitivity exemplify the full flowering of Freud’s mature practice.

The late 1980s also saw mounting critical recognition for Freud, who had been appointed a Companion of Honour in 1983. The success of the 1987 retrospective made him a household name in the United States. He soon began work on the superb series of paintings of the performance artist Leigh Bowery—what he referred to as the ‘Leighscapes’—that would play a key role in his fruitful partnership with the New York dealer William Acquavella, which began in 1992. Painted that same year, Two Women would be the final work in which he depicted Janey Longman. Freud’s presence in her life, however, endured. Longman—daughter of the publisher Mark Longman and Lady Elizabeth Longman, who had been a bridesmaid at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II—later had a son with the novelist Edward St Aubyn. They named him Lucian. Such are the intertwined complexities of human lives, changing relationships and passing time, all of which pulsate through Freud’s paintings. ‘When you fall in love with somebody’, he once told William Feaver, ‘you show heightened interest in them and in everything about them. For most people that’s what happens. But for an artist—for me—that heightened interest is a continuous and sustained interest, and that is what my art is about’ (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968-2011, London 2019, p. 194). Girl with Closed Eyes is testament to the force that animates Freud’s greatest works: aglow with an enthralling, enigmatic sense of life, the painting is also an act of love.

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