Holland Park, circa late 1970s London, Lucian Freud takes a breather from the monotony of studio life as he watches his daughter Rose, and sitter iron a shirt or as she washed the floor barefoot. At other intervals, he frolics around and even gets a rat draped on his shoulder by another of his sitters.
A major painting by Freud, Rose, 1977-78, and unseen photographs of the artist during the portrait’s creation, are the subject of this revealing exhibition at Ordovas titled, In the Studio. It conjures up the atmosphere of Freud’s west London studio through photographs taken by the artist’s daughter, the author Rose Boyt. Her pictures are shown alongside the portrait that she was sitting for, 40 years ago. On public display for the first time, the photographs bring Freud’s studio to life and place the portrait of his daughter in the context of its creation.
At the beginning of 1977, Lucian Freud moved from a cramped one-room flat in nearby Paddington into a much larger painting studio which remained his main work address until his death in 2011. The light and spacious top floor in Holland Park allowed for Freud’s paintings to become more ambitious and monumental in size. During this period the artist’s mother was sitting in the mornings and Two Plants, now in the Tate’s permanent collection, was also being painted. By contrast, the night paintings of the late 1970s were dominated by two primary sitters – Boyt and Raymond Jones.
Freud’s modus operandi was to work on several paintings simultaneously, which gave the sitters a break and also meant that if one of the paintings was not going well, or he felt stuck, he could switch his attentions to the other work. In the finished painting, Rose lies nude with one hand on the sofa, softly touching her shoulder and the other resting on her forehead, fingers closed and shielding her eyes. Her pose is bold and uninhibited. Freud, in turn, has moulded her form in thick impasto layers of fleshy pinks and uses white sparingly, on the tip of her knee and nose and the curve of her wrist. Rose’s body is alive – her senses appear heightened, and the physical construction of the human body accentuated.
Boyt’s photographs offer a fly-on-the-wall perspective into Freud’s working practice and document daily life in his new studio settings. They came about when Rose was asked to take a portrait of her father for the catalogue of a forthcoming exhibition at his then gallery. Boyt, only 19 at the time, had just one roll of film, which she filled with these informal pictures of her father surrounded by his paints, rags and clothes. Approaching the studio through her camera lens, the viewer is given permission to peek into the myriad of details of daily and nightly life in Freud’s studio including the omnipresent fawn-coloured Chesterfield sofa that appears in so many of the artist’s most celebrated portraits and the wall that he used to clean his brushes, covered in big daubs of paint.
Describing the experience of becoming one of his father’s subjects, Boyt says: “Angry and exhilarated, outraged by the terms and conditions, honoured to have been chosen. Just to spend time with him was inspirational. I loved him.”
Exhibition catalogue is available from ordovoasart.com