Head of a Man

Lucian Freud

As an artist, Freud was constantly driven to discomfort himself whenever he suspected that he was falling into a routine or worse, exhibiting sentimentality.  In an effort to widen the boundaries of his subject matter he sought out new models, the more unconventional the better.  In 1988 Freud was attending an opening at the London gallery of Anthony d’Offay where he watched a performance by the Australian avant-garde polymath Leigh Bowery.  The performance consisted of Bowery reclining on a chaise longue behind a two-way mirror, primping and preening in a variety of outfits whilst visitors looked on. The gall and defiance of Bowery’s narcissistic world captivated gallery goers and critics alike, and Freud had found his model.  No conventional beauty, Freud reveled in painting Bowery’s flesh, and in time that too of Bowery’s friend, the now infamous benefits supervisor Sue Tilley. 

Both Head of a Man of 1992, and Reclining Figure of 1994 are etchings of Bowery and form part of a body of work in which the distinction between portrait and nude becomes ever more soluble.  In both these works it is important to note that, although unnecessary given the chosen constraints of the picture plane, Bowery is clearly naked.  Freud had said that “painting a nude, of course, … deepens the transaction”* between the artist and the sitter, and it appears that a tacit condition to Bowery’s participation in Freud’s progress as an artist is the provision of unconventional nudity.  Bowery himself spoke of becoming more aware of his body, yet more at ease whilst posing for Freud**,  and it certainly seems, given Bowery’s profession as a performance artist, that the relationship between the two men was in fact a fairly unique collaboration.

*Robert Hughes, Lucian Freud, Paintings, catalogue of exhibition organized by The British Council, 1987 (p.20)

**Catherine Lampert, Lucian Freud: recent work, catalogue of exhibition organised by the Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993 (p.22)

Artist
Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Title
Head of a Man
Medium
Etching
Date
1992
Sheet
15 x 16 ½ in : 40.0 x 41.9 cm (BFK Rives White 250 gsm.)
Plate
8 ¾ x 8 in : 22.2 x 20.3 cm
Edition
A proof aside from the edition of 20, signed and numbered by the artist
Printer
Marc Balakjian at Studio Prints, London
Publisher
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 1993
Literature
Hartley 46; Figura 69
Reference
CC12-39
Status
Available for sale

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