‘[In Tired Boy] the boy wears no shirt; his eyes are closed and there is nothing distorted in his clear, open features. He is protected, despite his vulnerability, by obliviousness’
(S. Smee, Lucian Freud, 2007, p. 16).
‘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 W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, London 2002, p. 15).
‘I very much prided myself on my drawing’
(L. Freud, quoted in Lucian Freud on Paper, 2008, p. 19).
Intimately observed and delicately articulated, Tired Boy is a strikingly honest, beautifully intimate and carefully rendered line drawing by a young Lucian Freud. Executed in 1943, when Freud was just twenty-one years old, the work portrays the artist’s young friend Nigel Macdonald. Sitting peacefully with his eyelids blissfully heavy and close to sleep, the young man has been rendered with astonishing clarity. Swept behind his left ear, the boy’s hair has been brushed in fine sweeps of the artist’s pencil, one tendril dropping loose across his right brow. Light shadows fall across his face, sweeping over the bridge of his nose and jaw, and pooling in the small hollow between the boy’s delicate collar bones. His young chest is bare and Freud has covered the contours with a careful hand. It is a tender, gentle depiction of the young man. As Sebastian Smee has described, ‘the boy wears no shirt; his eyes are closed and there is nothing distorted in his clear, open features. He is protected, despite his vulnerability, by obliviousness’ (S. Smee, Lucian Freud, 2007, p. 16).
Freud drew Nigel Macdonald a number of times in 1943, primarily in his room in Abercorn Place, St John’s Wood, and later in the summer of that year when Freud, Macdonald and his then girlfriend, Bettina Shaw-Lawrence ventured up to Scotland. The trio made quite an impression on their fellow guests at the Drumnadrochit Hotel, Inverness as they bounced around in their tartan kilts and trews. It was on this trip that Freud drew Macdonald in Boy in Bed with Fruit (1943). Taking inspiration from the people around him, Freud imbued his drawings with a unique sense of the sitter’s inner life, allowing the subject to breathe from the paper. This honesty and faith to his subject was always deeply felt. As Freud himself explained 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 W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, London 2002, p. 15).
At this early stage of his career, Freud was becoming increasingly interested in the form of the body and its posture, drawing a number of works on paper in order to explore the folding of a hand, the tilting of a head, the accent of a cheekbone, the foreshortening of a leg. As he would later explain: ‘I very much prided myself on my drawing’ (L. Freud, quoted in Lucian Freud on Paper, 2008, p. 19). In Freud’s Tired Boy, his study of physiognomy is emphasised by the artist’s decision to exclude the chair supporting the sitter or any other detail from the scene. Rather than diminish the focus on these features, Freud’s approach heightens our awareness of them, encouraging the viewer to engage with the drawing and reconstruct the scene with our imagination. In Freud’s clean approach to line, he was also fostering a link with the pencil drawings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Through his use of a moderately hard graphite pencil, Ingres formed lucid contours with considered shading that represent remarkable precision. Freud’s Tired Boy (1943) demonstrates a similar conservatism, inferring shade with careful, feathered gradations of pencil in areas restricted to the contours of his subject, the natural cleavages of the body or to the shadows cast by the sitter’s noble features.
With the confident assertion of just a few lines, Freud’s early drawings have the ability to capture the very essence of his sitter’s character. This skill, one shared with a young Egon Schiele, is particularly apparent in Tired Boy (1943). It is a skill that is translated into all of Freud’s oeuvre, making him one of history’s great chroniclers of human nature. As Robert Flynn Johnson has so aptly summarised, ‘Uncompromising loyalty to an art based on observable fact describes Lucian Freud’s long and remarkable career…his examination of human character will inform and enlighten future generations’ (R. Flynn Johnson, Lucian Freud: Works on Paper, London 1988, p. 23).