Lucian Freud: A Scottish Interlude

By Boselli, Sandra | British Art Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Lucian Freud: A Scottish Interlude


Boselli, Sandra, British Art Journal


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In 1997 the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art organised 'Early Works--Lucian Freud', an exhibition highlighting the artist's youthful work up to 1945. Among the works shown, three drawings disclosed that the artist had travelled to the Loch Ness area in Scotland. Of these, two had never been shown before: Night Train to Inverness and Jimmie (Ghillie at Loch Ness). Like his well-known pen and ink drawing of Loch Ness from Drumnadrochit, also on display, they were done during the young artist's visit to Scotland towards the end of June 1943.

Since that exhibition held in Edinburgh 13 years ago, these graphic works have reappeared in other exhibitions or books, but Freud has remained silent on the reasons for his visit to Scotland. It is not possible fully to understand these drawings if the story they tell is only known to the artist and it is therefore unfortunate for us that Freud does not believe in Picasso's recommendation that 'it's not enough to know the artist's works. One also has to know when he made them, why, how, in what circumstances'. (1)

In particular, very little is known about the circumstances surrounding the young artist's work in the period immediately following his two-month voyage across the Atlantic to Canada in 1941 with the British Merchant Navy. Freud or his biographers treat in a slighting manner poets and artists who may have contributed to shaping his oeuvre at that time. They give the impression that the young man developed artistically in some sort of vacuum; they never question whether neo-romanticism or the New Apocalypse, both major British movements throughout the war, had had any effect on the artist. This is all the more intriguing since young Freud in those early days had many poets among his friends, members of London's close-knit literary circle and focused on periodicals such as Horizon, New Writing and Poetry (London) or gathered round rich patrons such as Peter Watson. Lucian was barely 16 when he became part of this artistic community, Tambimuttu, editor of Poetry (London), recalled that, shortly after he arrived in London from his native Ceylon (Sri Lanka), he met a very shy Lucian at a party with the poet Stephen Spender in 1938. (2)

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Lucian felt increasingly at home among this British intelligentsia, who 'pandered' to him, according to Bettina Shaw-Lawrence (whose conversations with the present writer have thrown light on this period). Its members recognised his potential talent, unlike his father who wanted to send his son out to work on a farm. Thus Freud, despite his father's objections, was as free as a bird, but constantly in debt to Peter Watson, who helped John Craxton, another young artist, and Lucian to pay their rent at Abercorn Place in 1942. Watson used his patronage to convince galleries such as the Lefevre Gallery to accept the young painter's work; or, at his request, because he was co-founder of Horizon, the magazine reproduced occasionally some of his drawings. Despite the Lefevre Gallery's sale of a small number of paintings in 1942, Freud would have found it difficult to make ends meet. Furthermore, projects had fallen through, such as illustrations to C Day Lewis's translation of Virgil's Georgics, and the launch of a magazine on surrealism, Bheaou, to be edited by the surrealist Tony del Renzio and Freud.

By nature very enthusiastic and full of energy, Freud led a life filled with friends and acquaintances, but his desire to fulfil himself as an artist must have been at a low ebb. Indeed the only entry for 1943 in William Feaver's biography Lucian Freud is his move to Delamere Terrace in Paddington, which indicates that, although nothing much had happened on the artistic front that year, he may have been more comfortably off, since he was able to move to a flat which he could call his own. Bettina Shaw-Lawrence, a fellow artist, recalls meeting Lucian at the Cafe Royal around that time, dressed in one of his grandfather's dark suits and showing off some gold coins.

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