Boat, Connemara, executed in 1948, is an extraordinary drawing by a young Lucian Freud. Purchased directly from the artist's studio by the architect, W.G. Howell, the work marks an important rediscovery in Freud's oeuvre, offering an emotional history of the artist's young life. Over the course of three weeks in August 1948, Freud travelled to Ireland where he stayed with a young Anne Dunn at the Zetland Hotel in remote and staggeringly picturesque Connemara. Boat, Connemara is one of two works that document the artist's summer jaunt to Ireland. It accompanies the mysterious pastel Interior Scene (1948) dating from the same period, in which a small woman stands partially obscured in the dusky shadows. It is his paramour Anne Dunn, here standing in a bedroom at the Zetland Hotel, her brilliant blue eyes framed by parted curtain drapes. In Boat, Connemara, Freud has gone down to the beach to draw the surrounding landscape. In it, he has captured a veteran steam vessel: a large boat used to bring day-trippers and visitors to and from the bay. The boat lies tethered to the land and beached by a low-tide. Resting on the empty shore it is flanked by the dramatic pier. Steps lead down to the water's edge where a shaggy-haired Connemara pony stands harnessed, ready to pull its harvest of seaweed to safety. In the distance, beyond the uneven, sharp stones rises Cashel Hill leaving no doubt as to the elusive drawing's location.
Just as Freud was later to achieve in his paintings, he treats the entire vista with a deeply scrutinising eye, rendering it with a pronounced meticulousness. Freud's penwork became increasingly refined towards the end of the 1940s. In Boat, Connemara as in his Man At Night (Self-Portrait) from the same period, the young artist employs a wealth of calligraphic patterns, hatching and cross-hatching his surfaces with devotion, building up areas of light and shade through a wealth of straight lines. In this respect, Freud was adopting a technique found in the fine draughtsmanship of Albrecht Dürer and the landscape drawings of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh himself had employed a reed and tiny mapping-nib in his compositions, imbuing them with the energy and sense of vitality found in Boat, Connemara. The curved hull of Freud's boat is rendered in a warm ochre tone, the only coloured portion of the drawing, realised with ground down pastel bound with egg yolk to form a smooth, improvised, tempera finish. Above and below the horizon, Freud has left his paper empty, the diligent pen work concentrated in a central band. Looking at the drawing, the viewer is drawn to this area of activity, to the prodigious skill of a relaxed Freud on holiday.
W.G. Howell first came across the drawing in, or soon after 1948 and it has remained in the family ever since. Howell had been in the Royal Air Force during the War and after demob went up to Cambridge to study architecture. It was here that he began The Cambridge Contemporary Art Trust, a self-financing picture loan scheme open to anyone at the university or in the city of Cambridge. Acquiring works directly from the artists themselves, as well as securing patronage from well-known British figures such as Kenneth Clark, Herbert Read and Henry Moore, the Trust built up a remarkable collection. In 1948, Howell assembled the Trust's first annual exhibition, including works by Lucian Freud and John Craxton who had recently been travelling together in Greece. Boat, Connemara never formed part of the Trust, however the project gave Howell a fascinating entré into the post-War London art scene. Indeed when Howell moved to London to study at the Architectural Association, he lived with his then girlfriend, later his wife, Gillian Sarson on Dean Street, Soho, a favourite haunt of Freud and his wayward companion Francis Bacon. It is through these connections and in particular his acquaintance with Freud that Howell acquired Boat, Connemara.
Freud gave up his drawing practice in the 1950s; as he explained: 'people thought and said and wrote that I was a very good draughtsman but my paintings were linear and defined by my drawing. [They said] you could tell what a good draughtsman I was from my painting. I've never been affected by writing, but I thought if thats at all true I must stop' (L. Freud quoted in S. Smee, Lucian Freud on Paper, London 2008, p. 5). After this point, he only returned to work with etchings much later in his career and never with the same novelty of approach as defined by his youth. Yet Freud has always kept faith with the principles of his early career, animating the subject in paint as on paper with the intensity and cool objectivity that became his hallmark.