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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Rediscovered Self-Portrait by Lucian Freud to be Auctioned at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s is delighted to announce that it will offer for sale the recently rediscovered oil on canvas Self-Portrait with a Black Eye, circa 1978, by the celebrated British artist Lucian Freud (b. 1922) in its London Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. The self-portrait, which headlines a group of five important works by the artist in the auction that have come from a private European collection, has never been recorded in the published literature on Lucian Freud and has remained in the same collection for over 30 years since its conception. Never-before exhibited in public, this rare work ranks as the artist’s most important self-depiction ever to appear at auction and is estimated at £3-4 million.

Lucian FreudIn Self Portrait with a Black Eye, the immediately recognisable features of the artist, aged almost 60, have been temporarily distorted by a swollen black eye, the result of an altercation between Freud and a taxi driver during which the artist sustained a punch in the face. The anecdote associated with the incident records that with characteristic eccentricity, rather than continue his journey or seek treatment, Freud retreated to his studio in order to record his crumpled appearance. Ignoring the pain, inconvenience and potential embarrassment, Freud instead used the circumstance as the inspiration to create an important new work.

Discussing ‘Self-Portrait with a Black Eye’, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe, said: “Freud, whose critical reputation across the past seven decades remains unmatched and undiminished, is undoubtedly one of the greatest living Contemporary artists. Considering the sheer Herculean effort that Freud invests in his work – typically executing not more than a handful of paintings each year with every one demanding dozens of sittings (including his own) and tireless reworking – and the circumstances surrounding the inception of this rediscovered and illuminating self-portrait, the present is of the utmost significance to the oeuvre of this venerated artist.”

Sotheby’s Senior Director and Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art, Oliver Barker, added: “The sale of this remarkable rediscovery, which exhibits all the psychological intensity and painterly virtuosity of Freud’s most celebrated works, represents only the third time a self-portrait by the artist has ever appeared at auction. Man with a feather (self-portrait) was the last be offered at auction and sold in these salerooms in 2005 for a record-breaking £3.7 million – the price remains the record for a self-portrait for the artist at auction. The sale in February of this until now unknown self-portrait propitiously coincides with the March 2010 Retrospective of Freud’s work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.”

Commenting on the role of Francis Bacon in his life, with whom he was close friends until about the time of this work, the artist has confessed: “I used to have a lot of fights. It wasn’t because I liked fighting, it was really just that people said things to me to which I felt the only reply was to hit them. If Francis was there, he’d say, ‘Don’t you think you ought to try and charm them?’ And I thought, ‘Well…!’ Before that, I never really thought about my ‘behavior’, as such – I just thought about what I wanted to do and did it. And quite often I wanted to hit people. Francis wasn’t didactic in any way. But it could be said that if you’re an adult, hitting someone is really a shortcoming, couldn’t it? I mean, there should be some other way of dealing with it”1. Self Portrait with a Black Eye therefore preserves on canvas the brutal truth of what returned Freud’s gaze from the mirror and bears frank witness to the convolutions of a turbulent life.

The self-portrait is quite unlike any other painting by Lucian Freud in that it reveals unique insight into the character of this intensely reclusive artist. Since the 1940s Freud has focused on painting a close coterie of friends and acquaintances, and as the self-confessed compulsive interrogator of those subjects he knows best there cannot be a more important or revealing subject for this artist than himself. The present work represents a critical shift in the role of self-portraiture within Freud’s art. This remarkably rare self-portrait from the 1970s inaugurates the extraordinary depths of self-analysis that Freud would subsequently mine in the internationally revered paintings Reflection (Self-Portrait) of 1985, Painter Working, Reflection of 1992-93, and Self-Portrait, Reflection of 2003-04.

Having spent the former decades of his career negotiating an aesthetic dialect between draughtsmanship and painting, by this time Freud was editing pictorial information with exceptional economy and the material of paint became inextricable from his subject. The second half of the 1970s was a decisive time in Freud’s artistic progress, witnessing the creation of the masterworks Frank Auerbach (1975-76), The Big Man (1976-77), three versions of The Painter’s Mother Resting (1976-77), and the extraordinary Two Plants (1977-80), which is now in the Tate Collection. Over several months during 1977 Freud moved his studio from Thorngate Road in Paddington to a larger top floor apartment in Holland Park, which had a newly installed skylight in the roof, enabling his subjects to be top-lit. The pattern of light and shade in the hair, the passage of illumination across the forehead and the highlight that accentuates the foremost ridge of the nose in Self Portrait with a Black Eye all indicate that this was among the first subjects to be scrutinised under this new top lighting.

Also to be included for sale is Freud’s 1981 oil on canvas Guy and Speck. The painting is an artwork of terrific vitality and depicts one of Lucian Freud’s most recognisable subjects and beautifully exhibits the artist’s incomparable manipulation of paint. This painting reveals the process behind Freud’s much commended technique, and exquisitely captures in minutely-observed detail a character very familiar to the artist at this time. Guy Hart was an antiques dealer and passionate follower of horseracing, having once been a jockey, and he belongs to an elite cadre of subjects that have fascinated Freud through repeated depiction. Freud portrays Speck, the tubby Jack Russell, lodged firmly under the arm of Guy as an inseparable companion. The compositional planning on display in this work provides great insight into how Freud conceived master and hound integrated together, with Speck fitting snugly into Guy’s torso and their two faces aligning vertically in a dramatic double portrait. Wonderfully evocative in subject, ingeniously organised in composition, and expert in technical execution, Guy and Speck is a fantastic summary of Freud’s celebrated oeuvre and is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000.

The offering will also include Portrait of Christian Bérard, which has remained off the market since 1996 and is estimated at £300,000-400,000. Dated Christmas 1948, the crayon on paper laid down on card Portrait of Christian Bérard is one of the last depictions of the renowned French artist, illustrator and designer before his sudden death in February 1949 whilst on stage at the Théâtre Marigny. The work is a remarkable and tender Portrait of Christian Bérard and shows Freud’s inimitable ability to capture the soul of his human subjects within their likeness and the ingenious delicacy and grace of the young artist’s technique and is one of two known portraits by Freud of Christian Bérard, this early masterpiece ranks among the finest portrait drawings of his illustrious career, and equal counterpart to its sister portrait.

Also known as Bébé, Bérard played an important role in the development of theatrical design in the 1930s and 1940s, culminating in his lustrous, magical designs for Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la Bête. He also worked as a fashion illustrator for Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Nina Ricci. Lucian Freud met Bérard for the first time in June 1948 whilst Bérard was in London for the premiere of the ballet Clock Symphony for which had designed the décor and costumes. Freud subsequently visited him in Paris in December that year, and at Bérard’s suggestion executed two portrait drawings of him. One was acquired by Bérard and inherited by his long-standing partner and collaborator Boris Kochno. The other was the present work which the artist gave and dedicated to Jean Subrenat, owner of the Parisian restaurant La Mediterranee at Place de L’Odeon, not far from rue Casimir-Delavigne where Bérard and Kochno lived. La Mediterranee was a popular meeting place for artists during the 1940s. Balthus had painted the restaurant’s sign and Bérard mural decorations for one of the restaurant’s dining rooms, which still remain there today. Subrenat often accepted works from artists in lieu of payment, and over time acquired a considerable collection in which the present work became a foremost highlight.

Further highlights include:
Freud’s Self-Portrait and Other Drawings in William Sansom’s ‘The Equilibriad’, executed circa 1948 (illustrated below and estimated at £100,000-150,000) and Freud’s 1973-74 oil on canvas Girls Head (estimated at £600,000-800,000).

Image: Lucian Freud (b. 1922), “Self-Portrait with a Black Eye”, circa 1978. Estimate: £3-4 million. Photo: Sotheby’s