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A Golden Age in London:
Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach
Christie's is delighted to be able to bring together one of the finest collections of works by the venerated British artists Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach ever to be assembled at auction. These works span an exceptional grouping of early works on paper by Lucian Freud from the collection of Kay Saatchi, his pivotal painting Woman Smiling (1958-1959), Francis Bacon's seminal Study for a Portrait, as well as Frank Auerbach's Head of E.O.W. and Head of Leon Kossoff, all created in the same year, 1953. United by their common faith in the possibilities of paint, Freud, Bacon and Auerbach have come to define what was a unique golden age in post-War London. Embarking upon their careers in the 1940s and 1950s, they encountered a city in dramatic flux, wracked with spiritual uncertainty and existential anxiety. The spectre of a new atomic age was on the ascendant and the city itself was still in the process of a costly reconstruction following the ravages of the Blitz. Most contemporaries were seeking refuge in new artistic methods and models tending towards abstraction, but this small group of like-minded individuals were busy, congregating around the halls and common room of the Royal College of Art, determinedly keeping faith with an art based on observation and figuration. Working assiduously from their various paint-strewn and make-shift studios in disparate parts of the city, the School of London artists as they were later called by friend and artist R.B. Kitaj, anchored themselves to those people and places familiar to them, depicting lovers and friends as well as cherished keepsakes; subjects that have rewarded them with rich and lasting legacies.
Lucian Freud's works on paper date from the years 1942-1944 when the young artist, still in his early twenties, was testing out his skills as a draughtsman. It was then in 1944 that he first met Francis Bacon, the pair forming a fast if sometimes fraught friendship. In those early years, Bacon undertook numerous head and full-length portraits of Freud influenced by a photograph of Franz Kafka, demonstrating the artist's own determination to 'give over all the pulsations of a person' (Francis Bacon interview with David Sylvester, D. Sylvester (ed.) The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1987, p. 174). Freud reciprocated with a single portrait of his companion in 1952. As Caroline Blackwood, Freud's second wife would later attest, the two ran in extremely close circles together, her marriage entailing 'a whole kind of Soho life. Going out to Wheeler's, and then the Colony and the Gargoyle, was the thing with that crowd - Francis Bacon, James Pope-Hennessy, John Minton, Cyril Connolly' (Caroline Blackwood, quoted in Filler, 'The Naked and the Id', published in Vanity Fair, November 1993, p. 198). Indeed she recalled having 'dinner with [Francis Bacon] nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch' (Caroline Blackwood, quoted in S. Aronson, Sophisticated Lady, p. 146). It was not until 1958-1959 with Woman Smiling however, that the influence of Francis Bacon would be felt in Freud's practice. It was in this pivotal portrait of Suzy Boyt, Freud's lover and mother of four of his children that he began to use paint with the expressive power that has become Freud's hallmark. Speaking of this creative turning point, Freud remembered the work of his friend: '[it] impressed me, his personality affected me. He talked a great deal about the paint itself, carrying the form and imbuing the paint with this sort of life. He talked about packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke, which amused and excited me...the idea of paint having that power' (Lucian Freud quoted in W. Feaver, 'Beyond Feeling', Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1993, p. 13.
Bacon by contrast was more muted about Freud and claimed to be slightly ambivalent about their relationship. As he once complained to David Sylvester: 'I'm not really fond of Lucian, you know, the way I am of Rodrigo (Moynihan) and Bobby (Buhler). It's just that he rings me up all the time.' As Sylvester was quick to point out however, this was a time when the two were inseparable and 'any ringing up had to be done by Lucian, as [Francis] made a point of not being on the telephone. At the same time, Francis always said that Lucian was the most entertaining and stimulating person he knew. And whatever his ambivalence, he made no pretence that he very much minded the gap in his life when in later years Lucian stopped ringing up' (David Sylvester, 'All the Pulsations of a Person', The Independent, 24 October 1993).
Bacon at this time was living a decidedly footloose existence, with numerous attachments and addresses to his name. In the early 1950s he spent time rotating between abodes staying for a short period with enduring friend and art-critic David Sylvester as well as Peter Lacy, an acerbic, quick-witted and often-violent ex-RAF pilot he had met at Muriel Belcher's Colony Club. As David Sylvester would later reminisce, those years with Bacon were formative for both himself and the young Lucian Freud: 'in those early days Lucian clearly had a crush on Francis, as I did. (We both copied his uniform of a plain, dark grey, worsted double-breasted Savile Row suit, plain shirt, plain dark tie, brown suede shoes)' (David Sylvester, 'All the Pulsations of a Person', The Independent, 24 October 1993). Bacon was teaching at the Royal College of Art at the time, acting as a stand-in for his friend John Minton. This secondment was to mark the beginning of the artist's affiliation with the Royal College where Bacon, at the behest of his friend and colleague Rodrigo Moynihan, was to borrow a studio from 1951-1953. It was there that Bacon was to create some of the most hauntingly beautiful works of his career, including his definitive series of Popes and his first portrait triptych Three Studies for the Human Head. Study for a Portrait was the last painting to be realised at the Royal College of Art, importantly prefiguring the artist's Man in Blue series, in both its deep, inky-blue composition and its impressive scale.
1953 was the same year that Frank Auerbach created his deeply impassioned Head of E.O.W, a richly stippled almost sculptural portrait of his lover Estella, 'Stella' West. By coincidence, the young, talented migr painter was also studying at the Royal College of Art, being taught by Bacon's friends and colleagues, John Minton and Rodrigo Moynihan. He used the college as a place for life drawing, otherwise painting from his accommodation in Earl's Court that he shared with Stella. Auerbach graduated from the Royal College of Art with a silver medal and was shortly after offered an exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery. David Sylvester pronounced the exhibition to be 'the most exciting and impressive first one-man show by an English painter since Francis Bacon's in 1949' and Auerbach remembers encountering the slightly older Lucian Freud. As Auerbach recounted: 'Lucian bowed [slightly] and said 'thank you''. A friendship developed between the two and it has lasted a lifetime, with Freud becoming one of the most avid supporters and collectors of Auerbach's work (William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 12). In 1958, Julia Wolstenholme, a year below Auerbach at the Royal College of Art was to start sitting for him. She still continues to do so, and has been married to the artist for over fifty years. KA
The Collection of Kay Saatchi
Christie's is honoured to offer at auction a selection of key works from the private collection of Kay Saatchi. Representing a wide spectrum of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art from across the 20th Century, Kay Saatchi's collection includes works of quality with a unique insight into the human condition. As Kay herself has professed, 'I don't believe art is art unless it moves your emotions. That's why I feel quite bold as a collector; if something doesn't move me after all this time I have spent looking at art, it's not for me. I have to trust my heart as well as my eyes and my intellect'.
Kay Saatchi's works display a special insight and sensitivity to their subjects. Spanning the war years of 1942-1944, the Kay Saatchi collection of works on paper by Lucian Freud mark some of the most important and exquisitely rendered pictures ever realised by the artist including Man in a Spotted Jacket (1942), the earliest in the group, Boy with a Pipe (1943), Dead Bird (1943), Rabbit on a Chair (1944), Dead Monkey (1944) and The Sleeping Cat (1944). A consummate observer of life, Freud created these drawings in the tender years of his early twenties. They embody his most detailed investigations into form, shape, texture and substance, each fold and crease treated with an extreme devotion of care. Regardless of the still life or human sitter of his composition, Freud imbued his early drawings with a unique sense of their own inner life, allowing the subject to breathe from the paper. This sense of vivid animation was to become a hallmark of Freud's practice, abundantly evident in the artist's etchings from the 1980s depicting those friends and family closest to him, including his daughter Isobel and his pet whippet, Pluto.
In Paula Rego's acknowledged masterpiece Looking Back, the artist offers a profound meditation on the dynamics of family life, realised at a time of her own personal tragedy with her beloved husband, the artist Victor Willing, slowly passing away. Depicting three generations of women, Looking Back channels all of Rego's emotional anguish and confusion into a monumental work, showcased to great acclaim at the landmark Serpentine Gallery retrospective in 1988. It was this exhibition that marked the beginning of Kay Saatchi's lifelong affection for Paula Rego and formed the basis for her expansive collection, including six delightful etchings.
Other highlights of the Kay Saatchi collection include a striking group of ceramics by Pablo Picasso, a dream-like transparency painting by Francis Picabia, as well as a series of early prints by Andy Warhol and contemporary works by Martha Rosler, Man Ray, Gregory Crewdson, Sam Taylor-Wood, Jodie Carey and Martin Maloney.
Kay Saatchi first arrived in London in 1986 at the recommendation of her friend and mentor, the formidable New York art dealer Leo Castelli. Kay Saatchi began her career by working at the pioneering Waddington Galleries, soon after meeting and marrying Charles Saatchi, whose consuming passion for art she shared. Together they entered their profound adventure on the British Art scene in the 1990s. Art continues to define Kay Saatchi's life, an avid curator and collector, she remains involved with projects in London including Anticipation, a showcase for the very best of young graduates leaving art school in the capital. Relocating to Los Angeles, Kay Saatchi opens a new chapter, exploring fresh opportunities on the West Coast but maintaining her focus on the fertile ground of new artistic talent. In bringing works from her private collection to auction, Kay Saatchi hopes to share with others the great pleasure that they have brought her over many years.
Subjects Rendered Wonderful
on Five Freud Works on Paper
Lucian Freud's drawings differ from his paintings in that they are, of course, done dry; the early ones, from the 1940's, acutely so. There's an engraved look to them, a feel of lines inscribed with sharp instruments or pricked in like tattoos. Not injuriously but lovingly, every detail precise and necessary.
This clarity was phenomenal for someone in his late teens and early
twenties; that's to say, about the same age as the sitter he faced for Boy with Pipe, 1943, seated there pleased with himself for being so grown up. 'Bobo' Russell had been at Bryanston School with Freud and
looks as though he regarded pipe-smoking as an intellectual pursuit. The very fact of being drawn, he will have thought, proved him interesting. Freud remembers him as a bore; but how fascinated he was by the differences between creases and folds in the jacket, by the pipe bowl sported like a covert signal and by the incipient Adam's apple.
Presented as they are, outlined, isolated, in plain light, Freud's subjects are rendered wonderful. Whether it's Bobo maybe about to smirk or a sleeping cat cushioned in crumpled stripes, each has a particular presence. Dead Monkey, 1944, one of several obtained ready-dead from the pet stores in Parkway, Camden Town, lies in an attitude of abandon, eye closed, teeth exposed, tail warped rigid, ear and paw near-human. We read into the image a degree of pathos; this shrunken creature, its hairiness so lively, could still be dreaming. As far as Freud was concerned dead was second best but, given the difficulty at that time of finding people prepared to sit for him, dead was fair enough. He could make something out of the impassivity. Also, the dead don't move.
Dead Monkey was one of the drawings that he used to illustrate Nicholas Moore's The Glass Tower, a collection of poems published in 1944 by Editions Poetry London, the first copies of which came back from the printers just a month after his first one man show opened at the Lefevre Gallery. Coinciding as they did the book and the exhibition created the impression that Freud was attuned to poetry and concerned to accomplish graphic equivalents.
Moore's poems, a modish blend of Auden and Yeats, were cited by Stephen Spender as 'A prime example of what we may call the Little Jack Horner School of poets, who put in a thumb and pull out a plum and say "what a good boy am I".' Which was how Freud himself used the poems, picking out whatever suited him: 'I just used to read them and look for words I liked.' For example, the phrase 'from the icicle in the eye may drip a message' was obviously too Jack Horner-ish but 'monkeys with their sexes prevalently showing' was promising, and promise was what prompted him to look through his existing drawings -such as those of the pet shop monkeys- and to insert them in the appropriate place. The images of a cat on a cushion and a rabbit on a chair could not be accommodated, nor the stuffed zebra head that featured in The Painter's Room, at 50 the most expensive painting in the Lefevre exhibition, though on second thoughts he fitted the zebra with a unicorn horn to grace Moore's line 'where one horn's hit another fierce horn grows.'
Having expended much effort on The Glass Tower, making a drawing of his indoor palm tree to adorn the yellow and black cover and devising feathered and clawed lettering for the dust jacket and title page -all for a mere 40 fee- Freud was furiously disappointed with the end result. The colour pages, in printer's blue and yellow, were garish and the skimpy wartime paper softened and clotted the precision of his drawings.
The drawings that Freud exhibited in 1944 were a match for the paintings shown alongside them: similarly conceived and equally vivid. Wartime restrictions and lack of money meant that he often used Ripolin enamel and barge paint (by 1944 he was living beside the Regent's Canal in Paddington) on board or second hand canvas while good paper to draw on came from old folios found in junkshops. In this light the drawing Dead Bird, dated August 1943, anticipates the painting Dead Heron of 1945, both being studies of bedraggled plumage, one bedded in turquoise gouache, the other beached in golden yellow, decomposition setting in. Dead Bird is remarkable for its wealth of markings, the feathers matted, tatty, fouled and towsled, the beak and claws bared to the bone. Where Dead Monkey is a primate intact, Dead Bird lies messily, its colouring faint against the surrounding opacity, its species now unclear and its deadness rendered emblematic.
There's an obvious temptation to assign transcendent roles to the creatures in these drawings, exemplary as they are and varied in touch. But what distinguishes them all alike is the phenomenal deliberation involved, whether in subtle outline or voracious stippling. The young Freud was intent on securing true accounts of whom or what he was scrutinising, whether former schoolfellow or fresh kill. Brought up on Dürer's drawings -the hare, the clump of turf and his aged mother- he recognised that mere accuracy just wouldn't do. A drawing should have a life of its own.
Rabbit on a Chair, is a young one, an Easter bunny indeed, from April 1944, possibly shot by Freud himself when staying with his patron Peter Watson at Tickerage Mill in Sussex, now laid down near enough to be examined minutely. The furriness is already stiffened a little; the cane-work, broken in places, is part life raft, part corduroy lap, part platter; the yellow and blue crayoning provides a tinge sufficient to float the rabbit slightly, giving it a lightness and, in the almost closed eye and inert whiskers, a delicacy of feeling.
Freud's work, from these early days and for nearly seventy years since, is all of a piece. His drawings, etchings and paintings share characteristics. It's said of him that he left off drawing in the Fifties in order to develop as a painter but this is not so really, for the concentration has been the same throughout and this concentration is founded on drawing. That's to say, the essential stimulus of drawing: drawing's virtues. What sings out from those done in 1943-44 is a chorus of individuality, as present then as it remains present still. Such intentness.
Copyright William Feaver 2011
William Feaver is the author of the forthcoming Lucian Freud (Rizzoli, 2011), and curator of the exhibition Lucian Freud Drawings that will take place in New York and London, February-June 2012.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF KAY SAATCHI