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.
Gently resting upon one arm, Dead Monkey (c. 1944) lies on its side, hands slightly curled and eyelids closed as if in sleep. Partially covered by a blanket, the animal appears vulnerable with little strength in its frame, yet Freud's depiction of it is both tender and respectful. Observing the monkey in intimate detail, Freud succeeds through the use of varied pen strokes to express the proper contours of the body, the coarse hair of the coat and the tension of the creature's muscles. Dead Monkey (c. 1944) dates from the time of Freud's first serious commission to create illustrations for a book of poetry entitled The Glass Tower by Nicholas Moore. Freud interpreted Moore's poems, creating what might be considered to be a modern version of the mediaeval bestiary. By this time, Freud had become a regular visitor to the London Zoo in Regents Park, and was frequently to be found sketching the various exotic animals from life. The monkey that provided the inspiration for Dead Monkey (c. 1944) was actually purchased illicitly from a pet shop and brought home by the artist to work from in private. The finished drawing of the primate was published in Moore's poetry book, but the image of the monkey continued to have a marked impact on Freud.
The creature reappears in various later drawings and paintings including Dead Monkey (1950), held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In this colour pastel and watercolour drawing, Freud plays with the possibilities of different lighting, partially obscuring the animal in shadows. In Dead Monkey (c. 1944), the primate is created in black and white, out of a series of sharp gestural pen marks on plain paper with all contrasts of light and shade constructed out of differing densities of hatching and cross-hatching. The face of the monkey demonstrates fine and closely cropped hair, darker around its muzzle through a plenitude of pen scrawls. By contrast the rest of the body is covered with sparsely distributed and irregular lines to indicate the coarse and wiry quality of the animal's fur. In the lines of shadow cast by the monkey's inanimate body and the draping of a sheet over its hindquarters, Freud builds up a series of parallel lines, with greater concentration in those places where the darkness is greatest. Created at the time of Freud's first one-man show at the Lefevre gallery, his critic John Piper noted: 'His youthful mannerisms add up to a personality. Too many forms are depressed by having to deliver unimportant literary messages but he has a cultivated feeling for line' (J. Piper quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York, 2007, p. 22). This particular ability to employ pen and paper with refinement is powerfully exhibited in Dead Monkey (c. 1944). KA