Mad­dened by LOVE for Lu­cian

Artist Celia Paul loved Lu­cian Freud so pas­sion­ately that it made her ill. Only af­ter a decade of his mul­ti­ple af­fairs did she fi­nally break free

Scottish Daily Mail - - Friday Books - YSENDA MAXTONE GRA­HAM

BOOK OF THE WEEK SELF-POR­TRAIT by Celia Paul (Cape £20, 216pp)

JuST be glad you weren’t a young, in­no­cent, im­pres­sion­able fe­male art stu­dent at the Slade in the 1970s. it was all too likely that you’d be spotted by Lu­cian Freud, who was a vis­it­ing tu­tor and used to prowl the cor­ri­dors and re­fec­tory.

He would make a flat­ter­ing re­mark about your paint­ing, then take you home in a taxi, rub­bing his knuck­les onto your neck and through your hair in the back of the cab. Later he would push you to the floor in­side the door of his flat, so the coins fell out of your pocket, and that would be the be­gin­ning.

This was pre­cisely what hap­pened to the young art stu­dent Celia Paul. ‘i felt that i had sinned, and that some­thing had been ir­repara­bly lost,’ she writes, re­call­ing her first sex­ual en­counter with Freud in 1978, when she was 18 and he was 56.

‘i felt guilty and pow­er­ful. i felt that i had slipped into a lim­it­less and dan­ger­ous world,’ she adds.

Her vo­cab­u­lary might sound a bit overblown, but that was the ef­fect Lu­cian seemed to have on women. Celia fell help­lessly, danger­ously in love — so deeply that, as she writes, it ‘was more like a sick­ness’.

Her hair be­came mat­ted and her face white. She would wait in­doors for three days for the tele­phone to ring if he said he was go­ing to ring her (i’d for­got­ten that dis­mal as­pect of lovesick­ness in the days be­fore mo­bile phones).

Her mother cried when she saw her daugh­ter in this state, in thrall to a pow­er­ful man more than three times her age.

CeLia wor­shipped Freud’s body, his art and his mind. ‘i feel my bones melt­ing in glad­ness,’ she writes, de­scrib­ing his touch. Her crav­ing for him re­ally was a sick­ness: one that lasted ten years, and caused her mo­ments of ec­stasy fol­lowed by bouts of deep de­pres­sion.

She fell into the trap so many oth­ers fell into: the be­lief that she was the cho­sen one, the only one.

Friends kept telling her gen­tly that Lu­cian was fa­mous for hav­ing lots of girl­friends at the same time, but she shunned the in­for­ma­tion.

She felt sick to the pit of her stom­ach when the well-mean­ing prin­ci­pal of the Slade, Lawrence gow­ing, men­tioned to her that another soon-to-be stu­dent was Lu­cian’s cur­rent ‘light o’ love’, and that his cal­lous be­hav­iour was ‘the stony cold mode of liv­ing that his art flour­ished on’.

Freud was adept at giv­ing Celia just enough re­as­sur­ance to keep her per­pet­u­ally hope­ful and in the lovesick state. That was one of his many arts.

‘i am filled with a feeling of power be­cause of his re­cent flat­tery and at­ten­tion,’ she wrote ex­cit­edly to her sis­ter kate, the day af­ter he’d made her feel to­tally ‘un­de­sir­able’ and ‘ex­posed’ while paint­ing her naked.

in this fas­ci­nat­ing mem­oir, you watch a woman be­ing grad­u­ally evis­cer­ated by love-tor­ture.

il­lus­trated with Celia Paul’s paint­ings, it is partly a piti­lessly hon­est re-liv­ing of that ten-year episode of her life, and partly a med­i­ta­tion on the eter­nal prob­lem of how to jug­gle lovesick­ness and an artis­tic ca­reer. it’s also an en­thralling ex­am­i­na­tion of fe­male self-es­teem: how it can be slowly de­stroyed and, even­tu­ally, res­cued. Celia came from a warm, kind, sane Church of eng­land fam­ily. ev­ery time she re­treated back to her fam­ily home to get away from the emotional vi­o­la­tion go­ing on in Lon­don, i sighed with re­lief — partly be­cause, away from Freud, she could at last get on with her true vo­ca­tion of paint­ing. Her cler­gy­man fa­ther was a mis­sion­ary turned bishop, who died young of a brain tu­mour. Celia had four sis­ters, one of whom, Jane, would go on to marry the for­mer arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Rowan Wil­liams. From the paint­ings she did of them all,

they look a gloomy lot, but I think this was a re­flec­tion of Celia’s own out­look on life, as well as the fact that they were all grieving.

Wal­low­ing in melan­choly seemed to be­come a masochis­tic ad­dic­tion for Celia. She al­lowed her­self to be­come a long-term vic­tim of Freud’s secretive, con­trol­ling ways, feeling ‘stu­pe­fied by my feeling of ab­so­lute worth­less­ness’.

Ring­ing in my ears while I read all this was Freud’s flip­pant re­mark to Wil­liam Feaver (quoted in Feaver’s new bi­og­ra­phy of Freud) ex­plain­ing why some of his chil­dren were ex­actly the same age as each other: ‘Don’t you re­alise I had a bi­cy­cle?’

Very witty — but this mem­oir re­veals the emotional car­nage that his be­hav­iour caused.

Celia’s mother comes across as a saint and hero­ine, for two chief rea­sons. First, she was Celia’s main ‘sit­ter’, agree­ing to sit for hours in the same po­si­tion. This re­sulted in a host of sad, haunt­ing por­traits.

Se­condly, when Celia gave birth to Lu­cian’s son Frank, just af­ter Lu­cian’s 62nd birth­day, her mother agreed to be Frank’s main carer, at her house in Cambridge, so that Celia could con­cen­trate on her artis­tic ca­reer and be avail­able to Lu­cian in Lon­don. Greater love hath no mother.

Celia ad­mits, ‘My mother was of­ten ex­hausted, and some­times re­sented the long hours she spent on her own with her grand­son.’ I bet she did.

Freud vis­ited Celia in hos­pi­tal on the day of Frank’s birth, bring­ing her a bottle of cham­pagne. The wrong present, one feels, and not what you need from your new baby’s fa­ther at that pre­cise mo­ment.

A vow of ‘till death us do part’ would have been prefer­able, but that was never forth­com­ing.

It’s a grat­i­fy­ing mo­ment four years later when, at last, Celia de­cides to split up from Freud, ac­cept­ing the truth that he’s deeply in­volved with another woman.

It was ‘feeling more pow­er­ful and con­fi­dent since be­com­ing a mother’ that gave her the strength and courage to make that fi­nal break.

Lu­cian did, how­ever, give Celia a top-floor flat near the Bri­tish Mu­seum, where she still lives and paints.

THeRe’S a speck of light in the dark­ness of the lovesick years. Lu­cian of­ten stip­u­lated that Celia must not ar­rive at his flat be­fore 1am, af­ter he’d fin­ished his day’s paint­ing.

So she used to go alone to a cafe in Char­lotte Street, be­fore the latenight film, where she hoped to see some­one she pri­vately re­ferred to as ‘the cafe man’ — a man with thick black hair who would look up dream­ily while tak­ing a drag on his cig­a­rette.

Much later, af­ter ex­tract­ing her­self from the tun­nel of Lu­cian love sick­ness, she would marry that man. He turned out to be Steven Kupfer, a phi­los­o­phy teacher. They’re hap­pily mar­ried to this day — although they don’t live to­gether, and he doesn’t even have a key to Celia’s flat.

Is Celia in­flict­ing the same rules of en­forced ex­clu­sion on her hus­band that Freud in­flicted on her for so many years? One gets the sense that this is not the case — it’s just that, af­ter years of emotional trauma, Celia trea­sures her soli­tude, and Kupfer re­spects that.


Be­guiled: Girl In A Striped Night­shirt, a 1985 paint­ing of Celia Paul by Lu­cian Freud. Above, Celia with Lu­cian in 2010

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