‘My work is purely autobiographical. It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know. I use the people to invent my pictures with, and I can work more freely when they are there’
(L. Freud, quoted in S. Howgate, ‘Forward’, in Lucian Freud Painting People, London 2012, p. 7).
Captivating and intense, Head of a Woman is a masterful drawing by Lucien Freud that truly illustrates his skillful technique as a draftsman. Executed in 1952, this work is a key example of Freud’s outstanding attention to detail and ability to capture the true essence of a person. Until the early 1950s, Freud worked mainly on paper adopting acute attention to detail, to create some of his most intimate and engaging pieces. Created at a pivotal turning point of his career, the present work precedes Freud’s move to primarily working with oil in the mid-1950s.
Head of a Woman, so delicate in its handling, is a portrait of a strikingly attractive woman. She looks downwards, avoiding the gaze of the viewer, while the soft shading around her nose and mouth resembles frown lines indicating vulnerability. Freud’s genius was in his ability to depict the innermost thoughts of his sitter. He chose his subjects carefully, requiring them to have ‘the inner life that’s ticking on’ (W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, p. 24).
It is the extreme intimacy and searing intensity that makes Head of a Woman such a vivid and evocative work. This is a raw and exposed depiction of Freud’s sitter. The woman’s delicate features are rendered perfectly, capturing both her physical and mental self. The subject’s large eyes, recall Freud’s images of his wife Kitty Garman such as his renowned painting Girl with a White Dog, painted only one year earlier than the present work. By drawing similarities between this woman and Kitty, Head of a Woman is arguably as much about the painter and his own turbulent relationship with his Kitty, as it is about the sitter. For Freud believed that ‘the model should only serve the very private function for the painter of providing the starting point for his excitement. The picture is all he feels about it, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with.’ (L. Freud, R. Lauter, J.C. Ammann and C. Hartley, Lucian Freud: naked portraits: Werke der 40er bis 90er Jahre, exh.cat, Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2001, p. 281).
A truthful, intimate and striking work, Head of a Woman is a prime illustration of why Freud was one of the best draftsmen of the twentieth century. His works manage to tap into his subjects’ deepest secrets, forcing the viewer to confront their own troubles. As Freud stated in 1954, ‘The picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life’ (L. Freud, quoted in Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2002, p. 15).