Un­cov­ered: my life as Lu­cian Freud’s model

Bri­tish art’s grand old man never gives in­ter­views, but here his as­sis­tant re­veals how he works, and what he thinks of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. By Ju­lia Weiner

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism -

LU­CIAN FREUD is reg­u­larly de­scribed as the world’s great­est liv­ing painter. Now that a new ex­hi­bi­tion has just opened in Lon­don fo­cus­ing on his early works, pub­lic in­ter­est is again high. Yet Freud, as ever, is re­luc­tant to en­gage with the me­dia. But one man who will cast light on his work­ing pro­cesses is the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­tor, David Daw­son, who knows the no­to­ri­ously in­ter­view-shy artist bet­ter than most. He has been work­ing as Freud’s stu­dio as­sis­tant since 1991, and reg­u­larly mod­els for him. “I was of­fered a job with James Kirk­land, who was Lu­cian’s dealer at the time,” Daw­son ex­plains. “I met Lu­cian and we got on im­me­di­ately, and it just evolved that I should go and help him. We de­vel­oped a nice friend­ship and that is how it all started.”

A typ­i­cal day work­ing with Freud be­gins at 7.45am. “Ev­ery morn­ing, first thing, I run to Lu­cian and set up the stu­dio. I get the easel out, as well as what­ever mod­els are sit­ting on or ly­ing on, and I put them in the right po­si­tion. Mod­els come in at 8.30am and then I leave. I am never in the stu­dio when Lu­cian is paint­ing un­less I am sit­ting my­self. It is al­ways a very pri­vate space and the stu­dio doors are al­ways closed. So if there is noth­ing else needed, I can go home and paint [my­self].”

He usu­ally re­turns in the evening to sort things out for the evening sit­ting or some­times to act as model him­self.

At 85, Freud is work­ing as hard as he has ever done, says Daw­son. “He paints ev­ery day. There are four paint­ings on the go at the mo­ment. He has day and night stu­dios. In the day stu­dio he paints in day­light, and at night he paints in elec­tric light. For an 85-yearold he is amaz­ing, and the qual­ity of his work is not di­min­ish­ing at all.”

So what is it like to sit for him? There are six paint­ings fea­tur­ing Daw­son and a sev­enth is cur­rently in progress. “It is a unique ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says. “Each paint­ing takes about a year and sit­tings are al­ways one on one. It is very con­cen­trated and at times very re­laxed just be­ing in each other’s com­pany. Lu­cian is a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist, but you learn to spot the pauses when he is con­cen­trat­ing and you just nat­u­rally don’t talk.”

The first paint­ing Freud made of Daw­son shows him ly­ing naked on a bed with Freud’s pet whip­pet Pluto, with an­other pair of legs stick­ing out from un­der thebed.Daw­son­mod­elled­for those as well. “I was stuck un­der the bed for six months,” he laughs. “It was a long, tall paint­ing and there was a huge area at the bot­tom. Lu­cian wanted ex­cite­ment and he tried many things: a big plant that had fallen over, a pair of trousers, and then he said: ‘Just go un­der the bed and have your legs point­ing out.’” The paint­ing is now in the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago.

Freud was born in Berlin but came to Bri­tain in 1933 at the age of 10. He avoided much of the trauma suf­fered by many refugees from the Nazis, says Daw­son. “Un­like his friend and fel­low painter Frank Auer­bach, who came alone from Ger­many, Lu­cian had a se­cure sense of fam­ily around him, his broth­ers, both par­ents and his grand­fa­ther,” he says. “This show is all about the war end­ing and Europe be­ing open again. He went to France as soon as he could [af­ter the war] and met Pi­casso and other artists there. The paint­ings are all about how free life was again.”

Freud is, of course, the grand­son of Sig­mund Freud. What sort of re­la­tion­ship did they have? “He was very fond of his grand­fa­ther and has great ad­mi­ra­tion for him,” Daw­son re­veals. “Re­cently the pub­lish­ers Taschen brought out a mono­graph about Lu­cian and he in­sisted on hav­ing ‘Lu­cian Freud’ on the cover rather than just ‘Freud’ be­cause to him ‘Freud’ means his grand­fa­ther.”

Like his grand­fa­ther, Freud is not a prac­tis­ing Jew but is in­ter­ested in dis­cussing re­li­gion. “A Jewish art col­lec­tor is fly­ing in from New York once a month for sit­tings at the mo­ment. Lu­cian is in­ter­ested in talk­ing to him about his be­liefs. But be­ing Jewish isn’t a big part of Lu­cian’s life, though he would never be against it. He just got caught up in paint­ing. That is his ob­ses­sion.”

Daw­son re­veals that Frank Auer­bach is very im­por­tant to Freud. “They re­ally are the clos­est of friends and have been for an aw­ful long time. Ev­ery time a paint­ing is just about fin­ished, Frank al­ways comes round to have a look and Lu­cian lis­tens to Frank’s view.”

Freud is also in­ter­ested in the work of the younger gen­er­a­tion of artists and vis­ited Sotheby’s in Lon­don re­cently to preview the works of Damien Hirst be­fore they were auc­tioned. “Lu­cian very much wants to see what else is go­ing on in the art world. He is very fond of Damien and they go out for sup­per some­times. Damien is clear about what he is do­ing and Lu­cian likes that clar­ity.” Through Daw­son, Freud has also met Tracey Emin. “I was at col­lege with Tracey and shared a stu­dio with her. Lu­cian likes her and thinks she has very nice man­ners.”

While pre­par­ing for the ex­hi­bi­tion, Freud asked Daw­son and ar­chiv­ist and cu­ra­tor Cather­ine Lam­pert to trace a por­trait of the mil­lion­aire an­tique book-dealer Bernard Bres­lauer, who had died in 2004. As re­ported in the JC ear­lier this year, they dis­cov­ered that Bres­lauer had not liked the way he was painted with a dou­ble chin and had de­stroyed the work. Freud was re­ported to be “dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated”. How­ever, Daw­son says that, in most cir­cum­stances, Freud is able to sep­a­rate him­self from his work. “When paint­ings leave the stu­dio, he lets them go. They are out in the world and he is con­cen­trat­ing on what is in front of him.”

He is, how­ever, rig­or­ous about en­sur­ing the qual­ity of the work he leaves for pos­ter­ity. “Lu­cian has al­ways edited his work very strongly so he has never let any­thing out of the stu­dio that he is not happy with. There isn’t any re­ally poor qual­ity work out there. We de­stroy any­thing else.” Early works by Lu­cian Freud are at Ha­zlitt Hol­land-Hib­bert, 38 Bury Street, Lon­don SW1 (www.hh-h.com) un­til De­cem­ber 12

Lu­cian Freud at work, in a pho­to­graph taken by David Daw­son, his as­sis­tant of 17 years. Work­ing with the artist is a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, says Daw­son

David Daw­son: “Lu­cian thinks Tracey Emin has very nice man­ners”

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