Conté crayon on paper.
224 x 141mm. (8 ⅞ x 5 ½ in.)
PROVENANCE: Private collection, from where acquired by another private collector in the 1950s.
EXHIBITED: London, The London Gallery, E.L.T. Mesens presents four exhibitions: James Glesson and Robert Kippel/ Lucian Freud/ John Pemberton/ Cawthra Mulockr, late 19481; The Zwemmer Gallery, London.2
LITERATURE: W. Samson, The Equilibriad, London 1948 (a reproduction of the present work, opposite p.16; C. Lampert (ed.), Lucian Freud Works on Paper, exhib. cat., London, South Bank Centre, 1988, no.10 (a reproduction of the present work illustrated, p.12 and given the title A Walk to the Office); M. Omer, Lucien Freud, exhib. cat., Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1996-1997 (a reproduction of the present work illustrated in colour p.107); M. Holborn (ed.), Lucien Freud on Paper, London 2008 (the relevant pages from The Equilibriad illustrated in colour, p.26).
Executed with astonishing skill and subtlety, this drawing is an archetype of Lucian Freud’s brilliance as a draughtsman and his precocious ability. In his introduction to the catalogue of Lucian Freud Portraits, held at the National Portrait Gallery, London in 2012, John Richardson wrote of the post-war years as being a period where ‘Lucian seemed destined to be a draughtsman rather than a painter’. Freud himself cited the graphic drawings of Dürer as a central influence on his art.
Freud’s first significant commission, which he received in 1943, had been to illustrate a book of poems: The Glass Tower by Nicholas Moore and illustrations and literary projects formed for a short time, a significant part of Freud’s artistic development. The present drawing dates from 1948 and was made, along with four others, to illustrate William Sansom’s surreal novel The Equilibriad, which was published by the Hogarth Press (the publishing house established by Leonard and Virginia Woolf). Sanson was a friend of the poet Stephen Spender whom Freud had known since 1940. Paul, the hero of Sansom’s novel, in a Kafkaesque turn of events, wakes up one morning to find he can only walk at an angle of 45°. With this figure, which became the first illustration in the book, Freud renders the description of the protagonist moving like ‘a doll lurching on its circular weighted base’ as he swings to catch a ball kicked accidentally towards him by a young boy, steadying himself on the railings. Freud used an acquaintance of his, an architect, as model for Paul and for the ironwork copied details from the balcony attached to his studio at Delamere Terrace in Paddington.
Until its recent rediscovery the present work had not been exhibited since it was shown at the London Gallery in 1948 and at the Zwemmer Gallery, soon after that. The smoothness of the paper throws up the extraordinarily subtle modeling which Freud achieved using a Conté crayon. Square in shape to allow sharpness of line the crayons are made from compressed graphite or charcoal; Seurat used the medium most frequently for his drawings and Freud took it up it in the mid-1940s as an even finer alternative to pen and ink. Nicholas Penny described the drawings of this period as seeming ‘to depict a tense situation in a plot frustratingly unknown to us’.4 This collision of medium, style and atmosphere, produced, in the present sheet, a most perfect work. Justifiably, the poet and art critic Herbert Read, described Lucien Freud in vol.II of his 1951 book on British Contemporary Art, as ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’. This was at a time when drawings still formed the main body of his work, ‘when he drew like a young man possessed …’ as Sebastian Smee described: ‘As Freud hit his stride in his twenties, his drawing underwent a process of contraction and concentration, conferring on his best pictures an almost electrical charge of objective intensity’5. Two years after the publication of The Equilibriad, Freud largely stopped drawing and set himself to painting: ‘The idea of doing paintings where you’re conscious of the drawing and not the paint just irritated me. So I stopped drawing for many, many years’6. Freud moved even further away from drawing when in 1958, inspired by Francis Bacon, he swapped fine sable brushes for hog bristle.7
1. See exhibition catalogue Lucian Freud Works on Paper, 1988, under selected exhibitions, p.126 and Sebastian Smee et al., Lucian Freud On Paper, published New York, 2008, p.25.
2. According to a label on the old backing (lost but recorded in a photograph)
3. See, John Richardson, ‘Remembering Lucian Freud’, Lucian Freud Portraits, London 2012, pp.10 and 17.
4. See exhib. cat. op. cit. 1988, p.14
5. See Sebastian Smee in Lucian Freud on Paper, New York 2008, p.5.
6. Sebastian Smee, ‘A Late Night Conversation with Lucian Freud’, Freud at Work, Editors, Bruce Bernard David Dawson, London 2006, p.18.
7. See exhib. cat., Lucian Freud Portraits, London 2012, p.230.