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Painted in 2001, Lucian Freud’s exquisite double portrait Julie and Martin captures a young couple in a moment of serene intimacy. A naked woman, half draped in a white robe, lies upon a rumpled bed sheet, resting her head upon her companion’s lap in blissful repose. Gazing into the distance, with his back against the bare wall, he places a hand upon her chest whilst the other caresses her hair. The woman is Julie Radford, a former social services worker who sat for several important paintings from this period. Having previously been featured anonymously, her name is finally revealed in the present work, along with that of her then-boyfriend Martin.
As the last of four canvases for which she sat, the work represents the culmination of Freud’s paintings of Julie. The year before Julie and Martin was painted, she had modeled alongside Freud’s son Freddy Eliot in the celebrated work After Cézanne, 2000 (National Gallery of Australia), which was exhibited directly next to the present painting in the artist’s landmark retrospective at the Tate Britain, London, in 2002. Having first been introduced to Freud by Sue Tilley, Freud’s foremost muse of the early 1990s, Julie sat for the artist during one of the most exciting periods of his portrait practice. Indeed, it was in 2001 that Freud completed his prestigious royal commission HM Queen Elizabeth II (Royal Collection Trust), cementing his reputation as the leading portrait artist of his time. In the youthful figures of Julie and Martin, Freud finds a meditative simplicity, capturing a deeply personal moment of supreme privacy. The work is executed with the raw intensity and highly observed detail that characterizes Freud’s fascination with naked flesh and human presence. “He looks a lot more intently I think than any other situation,” recalls Julie. “... the way he looks is so intrusive” (J. Radford, quoted in BBC documentary Imagine … Sitting for Lucian Freud, June 9, 2004). Julie and Martin is the ultimate embodiment of this very recollection. Through its almost tangible reality, it exemplifies Freud’s ability to capture the physical nuances of the human condition in paint.
Painted in Freud’s studio on Kensington Church Street in London over the course of about six months, the evolution of Julie and Martin was gradual. Working painstakingly over extended night sittings, his painting process was slow and organic: a captivating extension of the atmosphere of the studio, and of the long hours that the artist and models spent together. Freud studied each inch of the figure, every idiosyncrasy of the body, with an unparalleled gaze. His paint has a visceral, almost sculptural quality to it, and it is through this tactile application of pigment that Freud connects his work to the physical substance of his subjects’ bodies. “I want paint to work as flesh,” he claimed. “...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. Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn’t want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does” (L. Freud, quoted in L. Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, pp. 190-191). Through his unflinching gaze, the artist renders his figures through swirls of oils, perfectly capturing the soft curves of flesh and the rumple of clothing. Through light and modulation, rich impasto and expressionist brushstrokes, Freud builds a unique sense of physicality. As with all his sitters, what interests Freud most is seeing them dispassionately and objectively as unique examples, if not specimens, of physical animation. As Julie recalls, “he’ll appreciate shapes and forms and everything for the way it will go on the canvas…not as a human being but as the image” (Ibid., pp. 190-191). Freud himself has explained how “I’m really interested in [my subjects] as animals… Part of liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more: see the forms repeating right through the body and often in the head as well. One of the most exciting things is seeing through the skin, to the blood and veins and markings” (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, “Seeing through the Skin,” The Guardian, May 18 2002).
The metal bedstead upon which Julie and Martin recline acquired an almost iconic status in paintings from this period, and its deliberately humble appearance was a direct extension of Freud’s aesthetic. Julie herself had posed upon Freud’s studio bed several times. In an anecdote that encapsulates Freud’s approach to painting, she describes how she fell asleep upon it during a session break whilst sitting for Naked Portrait with Green Chair, 1999. Upon returning to the studio, Freud was inspired to capture this moment of natural slumber in a new work. “I was sitting for the previous painting and he left the room,” Julie remembers. “… And I was asleep when he came back in and I was asleep in that position and he really liked it…. He sees something that really excites him or interests him and that will be the idea for another painting” (J. Radford, op. cit.). That painting was Night Portrait, Face Down, 1999-2000, in which Julie’s dormant body is captured with the same hallowed sense of living, breathing stillness that pervades Julie and Martin. For Freud, who strove to convey a heightened sense of physical presence in his paintings, sleep was a state that made manifest a true sense of his subjects’ “being.” “If I’m putting someone in a picture, I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their way in,” he explained. “… that way, they are not there to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of the picture and I am recording them” (L. Freud, quoted in S. Smee, “Lucian Freud 1996-2005,” in M. Holborn (ed.), Lucian Freud 1996-2005, London, 2005, p. 10).
The present work was created during an important period of Freud’s career: as the new millennium dawned, Freud approached his eightieth birthday as one of contemporary art’s most celebrated painters, and it was at this time that he first met Julie. She had previously dated the brother of Sue Tilley—the benefits supervisor affectionately known as “Big Sue”—and had expressed her desire to meet the artist. Sue had been a central figure in Freud’s explorations of the personal, the private and the exposed reality of the everyday, and Julie may be seen as her successor in this regard. This was also a time of personal significance for Freud, who had recently made contact with Freddy, his son with his former lover Jacquetta Eliot. Julie and Freddy sat side by side on the same makeshift bed in After Cézanne, a loose homage to Paul Cézanne’s Afternoon in Naples. It was following this work that Julie’s boyfriend Martin, an aspiring actor, was invited to sit alongside her. Unlike the deliberately staged tableau of After Cézanne, Julie and Martin is imbued with a greater sense of emotive authenticity—a moment of intimacy born of a real-life relationship. Yet, as with so many of Freud’s greatest works, both examples are pervaded by the same sense of timelessness. Reflective of the long period over which Freud completed the work, days and hours seem to dissolve in Julie and Martin. Isolated from time and space, the figures are preserved forever in their secluded world of peaceful repose. “His pictures are infused with the most extraordinary sense of duration,” writes Sebastian Smee. “He articulates the intimacy and sometimes the estrangement of a unique mode of paying attention to people” (S. Smee, “Lucian Freud 1996-2005,” in M. Holborn (ed.), Lucian Freud 1996-2005, London 2005, p. 5).
Julie and Martin represents an exceptional example of Freud’s desire to capture the existential reality of his subjects. Set against the bare backdrop of his studio, Freud’s presentation of the young couple does not concern itself with biographical detail; rather, they appear before the viewer as eternal examples of human intimacy. As Smee has written, “This perhaps, is Freud’s great contribution to the ‘idea’ of portraiture: it is not so much about ‘penetrating character’ or illustrating personality traits; it is about the strongest possible presentation of a specific human presence. And bound up in that is an understanding of other people’s privacy, their essential solitude. ‘I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be,’ he has said. Although they are notorious for being among the most candid portraits ever painted, Freud’s portraits do not presume to know their subjects definitively (how could they, when so many of them are asleep, or have averted, vacant eyes?) Instead, they do something far more subversive and, in the end, moving. Even as he scrutinizes his models with the utmost intensity, Freud powerfully registers their unknowability. In doing so, he grants them a depth of human freedom; this in turn provokes an impulse in the viewer to accord them a genuine, a believable reality” (S. Smee, “Lucian Freud 1996-2005”, in M. Holborn (ed.), Lucian Freud 1996-2005, London 2005, p. 7). Julie and Martin is a direct product of this unique painterly approach: a portrait of supremely real humanity.
Julie Radford was working for a local council in north London when she sat for a total of four paintings by Lucian Freud. Here, she explains what it was like to sit for one of the world’s foremost painters.
Christie’s: How did you meet Lucian Freud?
Julie Radford: I was friends with Sue Tilley [another of Freud’s sitters and the subject of his painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995] and had mentioned that I would love to meet Lucian. I believe she described me and arranged for us to meet at Le Caprice for dinner. We got on well, although I was very nervous. He asked me to go back with him that night as he would like to paint me. Although he was very polite and I was incredibly excited by the thought I declined that night but said I would love to sit for him another time.
Christie’s: What were you doing at the time you met Freud?
Julie Radford: I was working with dementia sufferers at a local day center in north London. I was at 25 and having just been dumped by Sue’s brother, I jumped at the chance for some excitement! We arranged a sitting for the next day. I was so nervous I enjoyed a few glasses of his good champagne while he cooked for me and I built up the courage to sit or rather remove my clothes for someone I didn’t know! This was the start of Naked Portrait with Green Chair. Face Down came about as he had been on the phone for ages and came back to find me sleeping in that position, so when the first painting came to an end I was thrilled when he said he wanted to do another painting and would like me to lay in that position. It meant I could sleep!
Christie’s: Can you remember how Julie and Martin came about? Who was the other sitter?
Julie Radford: Martin was my boyfriend by that stage, I obviously spoke about him during previous sittings. I was madly in love at the time. Lucian heard about all my dates and nights out and was more than happy to give his opinion. I think he wanted to see what all the fuss was about! Martin wanted to be an actor so this was a good opportunity for him to go to college in the day and sit at night. Martin had told me he would rather keep his clothes on, so Lucian knew this and the expectation was that he would be wearing clothes. Lucian was more interested in us being in a natural and comfortable position than arranging things how he wanted them. I was lucky that way with all my pictures. This one was very comfortable actually and it was nice to have a bit of my gown covering me.
Christie’s: What was it like to sit for Freud? How long did the painting take?
Julie Radford: I loved sitting, it was kind of cathartic and mostly Lucian told me stories of his other sitters. At one point, he was painting the Queen during the day and me at night so I heard the odd tale or two. He spoke about the things he got up to in his younger days, which were always very entertaining, especially the family stories. During breaks from painting he wanted me to talk, but when he was painting he did all the talking and it was my favorite bit. As a sitter, for the time you are there, it is like you are the only person in the world he cares about. I think getting to know me was important to him in making the picture work, it’s a very intimate process. Julie and Martin took about six months, there was less talking and dinners out being three of us, so we got on with the painting more. We sat for about three or four nights per week from about 7pm until he felt he wanted to stop, usually in the early hours of the morning.
Christie’s: What was Freud’s painting process like?
Julie Radford: This was fascinating to watch, each brushstroke seemed to use different colors and every millimeter was examined by him standing back and looking at the whole picture. He was looking so long, although I feel that by the time he painted the last painting he had learnt my body very well. Some nights there seemed to be very little change, yet on others large parts of the canvass seemed to be filled although he rarely left an area alone without adding further definition and layers of paint. To anyone else you would think it’s finished, but there could be many weeks before he was happy. Often he would get frustrated with how things were going and stamp his feet, then disappear off to talk on the phone.
Christie’s: What was his studio like?
Julie Radford: Julie and Martin was the only painting I did in his house at Kensington Church Street. This studio was used less at the time but it still had the obligatory pile of rags and thick encrusted oil paint on the walls from cleaning off his pallet knife. The studio was never cleared of debris, just set up by David Dawson before I arrived to make sure things were in the right place. It was full of bits of furniture used in other paintings and, of course, his lovely whippet, Pluto.
Christie’s: Do you recall any anecdotes from the time you sat for him?
Julie Radford: Lucian was very nice to me. I know I was lucky. He treated me well and treated my mum and I to a trip to New York when he had an exhibition. He was always more interested in what people thought than he ever let on. He always put the heater on for me too! After the first painting he asked if I would sit more and give up my job to be at his beck and call, which I was very happy to do! Then we did After Cézanne during the day and started Face Down and I often stayed over in the studio while he went home. We didn’t have an intimate relationship but we were very close and Lucian made it clear in his own way he enjoyed me sitting for him, although he once said if I didn’t turn up he could use a parsnip which he said replicated my skin coloring! It was made very clear that I should never get a suntan or change my body in anyway, as the paintings took so long I needed to look the same throughout, also no shaving or weight loss! He often commented on my hip/waist ratio and thought it was “amazing.” I was sitting at midnight on the eve of the new millennium, so I always have a good memory when that subject comes up. He didn’t like to mix people much, but when I showed an interest in something he made exceptions. I had lunch with Bella a few times and he took me to meet Andrew Parker Bowles at a fabulous restaurant, they had a strong relationship full of banter.
Christie’s: Tell us a bit about the other paintings you sat for.
Julie Radford: The first one was Naked Portrait With Green Chair, then Night Portrait, Face Down followed by After Cézanne, which was a day picture with Freddy and Sarah, then Julie and Martin was the last one. We all got on well together with lively conversation, so although the dynamics were different, it was a fabulous time for me to spend evenings with my boyfriend and Lucian.