The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968–2011 by William Feaver - Review

By Raine, Craig | The Spectator, September 5, 2020 | Go to article overview

The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968–2011 by William Feaver - Review


Raine, Craig, The Spectator


Staying with Peregrine Eliot (later 10th Earl of St Germans) at Port Eliot in Cornwall, Lucian Freud remembered that the Eliots ‘ate off solid silver plate, even shepherd’s pie’. In 1968, Freud was having an affair with Perry’s wife Jacquetta. According to her, it was an addiction: ‘Completely hooked, a dreadful drug…’ After two turbulent years, she decided to have a baby by Lucian, ideally to be born on his birthday. Her husband agreed to bring up the child as his own, provided the matter was not mentioned again. The laissez-allerattitude is partly accounted for (though not by William Feaver) by the 1960s, and the way the young aristocracy embraced the hippy-trippy counter-culture. Jacquetta mentions smoking an opium spliff in Paris with Freud. Her analogy — ‘a dreadful drug’ — is indicative. As is her misspelling of ‘pethidine’ (an opioid painkiller administered in childbirth) as ‘pethadone’ — on the analogy of methadone. The son, Freddy, is now a qualified whirling dervish, practising at Hebden Bridge. Is there perhaps a (tie-dyed, kohl-eyed, henna, joss-stick, Pakistani black) pattern here?

The older aristocracy was equally unconventional. When Freud painted Mary Rose, Lord Beaumont’s wife, her conversation was racy. She disclosed that she had had an affair with Clement Freud. He asked how his brother was in the sack. ‘Punctual’ was her laconic, devastating verdict. Andrew, Duke of Devonshire, the subject of one of Freud’s greatest portraits, fell out bitterly with Freud — because Lucian had dumped Debo, his wife: ‘Andrew liked whores. When a newspaper revealed that he had been involved with a prostitute, the Duke said how lucky he was to be able to afford such treats.’

The aristocracy is different from you and me. Freud’s other brother Stephen was ‘conventional to the point of eccentricity. Golf!

Nearly all these revelations were transcribed from tapes and daily phone conversations with Freud — for what, it was agreed between biographer and subject, would be the first funny book about art. You can see why, in 2000, as the indiscretions multiplied, Freud withdrew his authorisation (in a letter with two first-class stamps). He also enclosed a cheque as compensation to his Boswell (for £1million, I was told by one of his aggrieved daughters. Feaver doesn’t specify the amount).

We can only be glad that, 20 years on, Feaver decided to publish anyway. Otherwise we would never know that Kate Moss thought Marlon Brando had an ‘enormous arse’. (Freud agreed.) Or that, when she was pregnant, she cut her cigarette intake from 80 a day to 20. The maternal instinct at full throttle. Nor would we have a record of Leigh Bowery (a frequent sitter from 1986 till his death from Aids in 1994) as he prepared for his transvestite act at the d’Offay Gallery:

(And now we know the tattoo was paid for by his assistant and co-performer Nicola Bateman, also one of Freud’s models.) He entered the Alternative Miss World 1985 as ‘Miss Fuck It’. ‘The climax of a show he had recently done in Amsterdam ended with his squirting an enema at the audience.’ Bowery stole a couple of paintings, which were retrieved at the last minute from his father’s luggage at Heathrow as he was about to return to Australia after Leigh’s funeral.

A rich, gamey biography, then. With some extremely interesting technical information about, for instance, etching, and Freud’s use of Cremnitz white (a banned substance he bought in bulk when it was made illegal). Following Ingres, he mixed charcoal dust in his paint ‘to give it a Paddington tinge’. His pictures were exercises in accretion, very gradually working outwards from the head which was his starting point. This meant that canvases frequently had to be extended — extra strips ‘zig-zag-sewn on enlarged stretchers’, and eventually bolt-ons. …

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