'I myself have sat for [Freud]... and have never felt the slightest hint of morbid manipulation in the execution or results-neither do I feel it with portraits naked or clothed of all the people whom I know well or fairly well who have sat for him. It is indeed no ordeal at all to sit for Lucian, unless like me, you do not like to sit or stand still for more than two minutes. But one is offered frequent enough breaks 'for a stretch', and for about half the time a stream of good gossip, old song lyrics and jokes, all from someone who is sacrificing no concentration on his work at all-which is executed with no knowingness whatever-every part of his subject being addressed as if for the first time' (B. Bernard, unpublished notes courtesy of V. Verran for the Estate of Bruce Bernard).
Executed in 1985, Head of Bruce Bernard is a masterful drawing by Lucian Freud capturing one of the key figures in his life: the journalist, author and photographer Bruce Bernard. It is an affectionate portrait that prefigures two of Freud's major paintings including Bruce Bernard (1992) and Bruce Bernard (Seated) (1996) and records the emotional rapport that existed between the artist and his friend. For Freud, the ambition was always to capture the essence of his sitter. As he once explained, 'I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them' (L. Freud quoted in R. Flyn Johnson, 'The Later Works 1961-1987', Lucian Freud: Works on Paper, exh. cat., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1988, p. 17). In Head of Bruce Bernard, Freud has rendered his subject with prodigious skill, employing charcoal to shade the hollows of the sitter's eyes, the bridge of his nose and suggest the rounded contours of his high forehead. The hair upon the subject's head is alive with texture, the brisk gestures of Freud's hand creating a unique sense of volume and texture. Bernard appears alone, without the context of another person or prop.
As Edouard Manet once suggested, in words that could equally describe Freuds practice, 'you would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and unique figure and still keep it living and real. To paint two figures which get their interest from the duality of the two personalities is child's play by comparison' (E. Manet quoted in R. Flyn Johnson, 'The Later Works 1961-1987', Lucian Freud: Works on Paper, exh. cat., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1988, p. 17). Bernard is drawn from a frontal and aerial perspective acting to heighten the viewer's concentration on the subject. This type of bold portraiture borrows from the Northern Renaissance masters such as Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer who both encouraged the viewer to gaze into the faces of their models as if through a one-way mirror.
Born in 1928, just six years after Freud, Bernard shared with the artist a very real passion for painting. He was picture editor of the Sunday Times Magazine and later the visual arts editor for the Saturday Independent. He was also an avid photographer taking pictures of Freud working in his studio, as well as compiling the most exhaustive monograph on his career to date. Bernard first met Freud in 1942 and over the following decades established a long-lasting friendship with the artist, based upon his love of art, discerning eye and insightful criticism. A denizen of the same infamous haunts: the Colony Room, the French Pub and Caves de France, Bernard mingled with the best of Soho's bohemia following the War. In spite of their relationship, Bernard only agreed to sit for Freud in 1985, the same year as the present work was created. Freud had consistently asked to paint Bernard, but he was deeply anxious about the time it was likely to take, given Freud's legendary, meticulous practice. Hearing that Freud's working speed had appreciably increased, Bernard finally agreed to sit for the artist and Freud subsequently created the present drawing and his two remarkable paintings.