Please note this work has been requested for the Lucian Freud Drawings exhibition being curated by William Feaver in London and New York, February-June 2012.
'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'
(William Feaver, 2011).
'I was always excited by birds. If you touch wild birds, it's a marvelous feeling'.
(Lucian Freud quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, London 2002, p. 23)
Lucian Freud's Dead Bird (1943) is a delicate and beautifully realised depiction of a game bird. Lying placidly against a background of sporting green, the bird resonates from the paper with its carefully selected palette of browns, muddied pinks and beiges, highlighting the many shades of its feathers. Its head and beak are immobile, suspended in their position whilst its claws remain curled as if in tension. The broad breast of the bird is inclined forward whilst its plumes of tail feathers curl delicately beneath its body. In this coloured work on paper, one of the first by the artist using watercolour and gouache, the bird is bestowed with a sense of nobility; Freud's careful ink marks memorialising the creature's exact form, its varied feathers and scaly legs.
Freud has always had an interest in birds, perhaps dating back to his early encounters with the works of Albrecht Dürer, whose Wing of a Roller (1512) was carried out in the same medium, with a similar level of technical exactitude. Freud's treatments of birds have ranged from the early oil on panel painting, Landscape with Birds (1940), created when the artist was just eighteen years old to the accomplished Boy with a Pigeon (1944) exploring the human interaction with animals. In Dead Heron (1945), Freud replicates the composition of Dead Bird (1943), except in this instance spreading the body and creating a disordered ruffle of plumage. In both works, Freud masters the combination of colour and form to create a bird whose life appears almost in the process of being reincarnated. Instead of leaving an intriguing blank page as a backdrop to these fine drawings of birds, Freud complements each with a rich colour. In Dead Bird (1943), this is a traditional British racing green wash, sourced from a bargeman's colour shop in London Paddington, that effectively cancels the emptiness of the unelaborated space.
In Dead Bird (1943) Freud demonstrates a wealth of perfectly intricate and clustered loops, curls and dashed lines that create the illusion of volume and sensation in the bird's feathers and scaled legs. In this respect, his calligraphic pattern appears closely related to the late-career of Vincent van Gogh whose brown ink drawing, La Crau Seen from Montmajour (1888) executed in Arles, depicts the smooth and craggy texture of French terrain. Freud's interest in surface and substance, natural affinity with colour and reverence for nature is powerfully showcased in this work on paper. Dead Bird (1943) is both a meditation on technique and a profound homage to nature, a sense of which has spanned Freud's entire career. KA