Breakfast with Lucian Freud, by Geordie Greig
NOTA DE LEITURA
Li o livro na bonita edição inglesa hardcover – ainda não saiu a edição de bolso. O papel é muito bom e tem muitas gravuras dos quadros de Lucian Freud com bonitas cores. O autor escreve bem, embora pareça por vezes que não é um livro bem investigado, é uma biografia onde o autor meteu aquilo que conseguiu encontrar. Demorou 20 anos a conseguir contactar o pintor, o que apenas aconteceu em 1997. Depois, a partir de 2002, frequentou-o com muita assiduidade até à morte dele em 2011, sobretudo nos demorados pequenos almoços no Café Clarke’s. O livro é em boa parte o resultado dessa convivência.
Lucian Freud viveu como um paxá, usando o seu talento para dominar tudo e todos, em especial as mulheres e para enriquecer. Casou apenas duas vezes, primeiro com Kathleen Epstein em 1948, de quem teve duas filhas, da qual se divorciou em 1952; casou depois em 1953 com Lady Caroline Blackwood, de quem não teve filhos e de quem se divorciou em 1959. Teve depois inúmeras amantes, várias delas ao mesmo tempo e deu o nome a 14 filhos (de seis mulheres); mas diz-se que teve pelos menos uns 30 ou 40. A filha mais velha, Annie Freud, ignorava que ele tivesse filhos fora do casamento; quando soube disso, já ele tinha perfilhado sete! No ano de 1961, nasceram-lhe três filhas: Isobel, de Suzy Boyt, Lucy McAdam Freud, de Katherine McAdam e Bella Freud de Bernardine Coverley.
O autor faz um elenco com a maior parte das girlfriends, dando naturalmente maior importância às que ele conhece pessoalmente. Lucian Freud raramente se apaixonou pelas suas amantes, com as quais nunca viveu, era sobretudo o sexo que o interessava – e depois pintar-lhes o retrato. Sexo é poder, enquanto o amor é sofrimento, por isso só o primeiro é que contava para ele..
O autor tem-se destacado no meio jornalístico. Por coincidência, namorou durante dois anos (1989-1991) em Nova Iorque com Ivana Lowell, filha de Lady Caroline Blackwood, como ela refere o seu livro de memórias Why not say what happened? (pag. 114):
“I was dating an Englishman named Geordie Greig. Geordie was an energetic, clever young journalist living in New York and working as the New York correspondent for the London Sunday Times. He was from an old, prominent upper-class Catholic family and attended public school and Oxford. He was ambitious, worked hard, and lived downtown in a grungy walk-up building above Joe’s Pizzeria. We made a strange couple, but I liked his intelligence, his humor, and, for want of a better word, “spunk”. My mother liked Geordie; she respected his curiosity and tenacity as a journalist and she also felt he “got us” and in a funny way he did. He later went to become editor of Tatler, that glossy magazine focused on the English upper classes, and is now the editor of the London Evening Standard.”
O que sobressai no livro é a admiração incondicional do autor pelo personagem. Ele é condescendente, mesmo quando refere as maiores pulhices do seu herói.
Descreve em pormenor muitos quadros, quase sempre reproduzidos no livro, mas as descrições tornam-se por vezes maçadoras, não têm profundidade.
Como dizem as recensões, mais do que uma biografia, é um livro de gossip.
The New York Times
Published: November 29, 2013
The Art of Celebrity
Geordie Greig’s ‘Breakfast With Lucian’
By FRANCINE PROSE
Just in case we’ve been wondering how important a painter Lucian Freud was, or what an enormous celebrity he became, or why the British journalist Geordie Greig has written a book about him, “Breakfast With Lucian” answers these questions in its opening pages. Freud was so well known that he was allowed into Clarke’s — a “small upmarket restaurant” frequented by Bryan Ferry, Salman Rushdie, Dame Maggie Smith, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — before it opened in the morning, and invited to enjoy a leisurely meal in what functioned as his private salon. Over dinner at London’s more glittering establishments, he could pelt strangers with breadsticks, spew obscenities, pummel a waiter, grope the waitresses, amuse his companions by imitating a masturbating whale — and be welcomed back the next evening. At Clarke’s, “Lucian’s conversation ranged from dating Greta Garbo to the best way to land a punch without breaking your thumb, to how he had popped in to 10 Downing Street to see Gordon Brown, or had been to a nightclub with Kate Moss.” Oh, the life of an artist!
It was during those breakfasts at Clarke’s that Greig grew intrigued by his eminent pal’s bad behavior, his prodigious gambling debts, his habit of turning against old friends and threatening enemies with visits from his gangster associates. We learn about Freud’s warm attachment to his grandfather Sigmund, whom Greig identifies, curiously, as “the most famous Jew in Europe” and later as “the most prominent Jew in Europe,” and Freud’s more ambivalent feelings about his mother and two brothers. There’s a brief account of his artistic apprenticeship, but what most fascinates his biographer is the erotic restlessness and priapic energy that enabled Freud to conduct several affairs at once, mistreat his lovers, steal other men’s wives, seduce teenagers well into his late middle age and father 14 acknowledged children (“Some journalists have put the figure nearer 40”) with a succession of women — so many children that the notoriously secretive artist could hardly have been expected to give them all his telephone number. Greig repeatedly reminds us of how ferociously Freud guarded his privacy, then regales us with glimpses of the painter in his studio, “laughing and dancing naked to Blondie’s pop anthem ‘Sunday Girl,’ ” and telling a girlfriend how attracted he was to a jockey named Lester Piggott. “He completely hero-worshiped him,” she recalls.
With so many titillating anecdotes to relate, with such a tangled web of adulteries linking Freud to the most illustrious and wealthy British aristocrats, it’s no wonder Greig can’t summon much interest in the relatively tedious thing Freud did when he wasn’t ruining young girls’ lives — that is, paint. Though the book is illustrated with reproductions of Freud’s portraits, their main purpose is to provide evidence of the trauma he inflicted on his subjects. “In trying to understand the complexity that is Lucian Freud, it is necessary to stay focused on his art. The pictures tell who he slept with and spent time with.”
Freud’s nude painting of his daughter Annie “is a study in vulnerability and teenage allure, with her wild grin of spontaneous mirth. A good subject for any artist, but one with psychological edge, questioning the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior by a father towards his pubescent daughter.” Greig’s understanding of Freud’s place in art history (“His naked portraits created a new genre. He entered the national conversation as an artist who pushed boundaries, artistic as well as sexual”) is similarly banal, as are his analyses of the connections between life and art. “Although there were many lovers, work remained his main mistress. . . . But when a relationship started, it lit up his life.”
Gossip can be a lot of fun, but can also cross a line and become distasteful. Even when writing about Freud on his deathbed, Greig can’t resist a gratuitously waspish aside: “He had been given a morphine patch by Dr. Michael Gormley, his private doctor, who was the brother of the sculptor Antony Gormley (whose work Lucian could not stand, as he was never afraid to tell anyone, even Michael Gormley).” The narrowness and relentless unpleasantness of Greig’s focus may leave his readers feeling much as they do after spending time with their most venomous acquaintance — slightly queasy and disoriented, as if they’ve fallen victim to some mild but insidious poison.
So let me suggest an antidote: Martin Gayford’s thoughtful and moving “Man With a Blue Scarf.” Based on a diary that Gayford, an art critic, kept during the time he sat for two portraits by Freud, the book offers a meticulous account of the artist’s working methods and a record of conversations about the history of portraiture, the work of Goya, Van Gogh and Picasso, about literature, humor, the animal world, landscape and light, the complex relationship between a painter and his subject and, most strikingly, the unique way in which Freud saw the world and struggled to get his vision onto canvas. Modest in tone and ambition, “Man With a Blue Scarf” is nonetheless one of the most instructive books I’ve read about art, and a testament to the fact that Freud’s importance had little to do with the glamorous people he knew, or with the exclusivity of the place where he ate breakfast.
Francine Prose is a Bookends columnist for the Book Review. Her most recent novel is “My New American Life.”
Sunday 13 October 2013
Breakfast with Lucian: A Portrait of the Artist by Geordie Greig – review
Geordie Greig's life of Lucian Freud gives us the gossip but fails to capture the artist
Geordie Greig stalked Lucian Freud from the moment his Eton college master took him to London to see an exhibition of the artist's work at the Antony d'Offay gallery in 1978. The 17-year-old Greig, now editor of theMail on Sunday, was transfixed in particular by the exposed ginger genitalia that are the focus of Freud's painting Naked Man with a Rat, the experience of seeing which was, he recalls, "like encountering Keith Richards crossed with Picasso: libidinous, risk-taking, bold and threatening". There were other distractions at the time for the diminutive art lover, "the Sex Pistols and the Clash" among them apparently, but Greig had a private inkling Freud "would somehow be important". When he got back to school he immediately sent the painter a letter asking for an interview for the school magazine. He received no reply but so began a "mission to know about him and his paintings which was to last 30 years".
The subtext of this posthumous, gossipy biography is the tale of Greig's shameless pursuit of that mission. Lucian Freud was never a man afraid to say no. He said no to the Krays, among many others, when they asked him to repay gambling debts. He often said no to wives and lovers and children when they asked him for money or fidelity or loyalty. He said no to anyone who asked to be painted by him (with the exception of Kate Moss). He said no to potential biographers – paying one off having read a draft, "appalled that so many intimate details would enter the public domain" – and apparently sending East End gangster friends round to another's house to put the frighteners on to prevent publication. He said no to a CBE "for entirely selfish reasons".
But eventually, it seems, after about 20 years of a courtship that involved many unread letters and rejected commissions and the writer eventually taking up residence in the basement flat of the building where Freud had his studio, he said yes to Geordie Greig.
"This book has avoided his obstructions," writes the author oddly and triumphantly of his deceased subject in the preface. The subsequent account of an extraordinary, complex existence rests partly on conversations the pair had at Sally Clarke's restaurant in Kensington Church Street, where Freud breakfasted most mornings in the last decades of his life with his loyal friend and assistant David Dawson, and a revolving cast of characters that occasionally included Greig.
From accounts of this table talk the editor aspires to be the artist's Boswell, though the vaunted intimacy – recounting his children's impressions of meeting the artist, his wife sharing a carol sheet with Freud at the Rothschilds' annual Christmas party, a scrawled diary entry of his own name in Freud's hand – at times feels a little desperate. At one point, Greig relates a story of "delivering a copy of the Evening Standard [of which he was editor] to Freud's home one evening". The front door was opened a fraction and a 10in serrated knife was pointed at Greig, who essayed a nervous laugh. "'Lunatic Artist Stabs Editor of Evening Standard is not a good way to be remembered,' I said." "I can think of worse ways," Freud muttered and let Greig in for a cup of tea.
If anything, the forced-entry feel to much of the book adds to its sense of a private life, once guarded with menaces, now exposed. Greig has done a lot of legwork – tracking down lovers and confidantes and subjects of Freud's work, including Raymond Jones, who posed for the portrait holding a rat, the painter's first full-length nude. Jones's account of sitting is revealing of the twin obsessions of Freud's life. "Sometimes there was a knock at the studio door at Holland Park and a woman would come in and go straight into the bathroom," Jones recalls. "Lucian would have said to me, 'I am just taking a break. I won't be that long.' More often than not there was then the bang, bang, bang noise of her being shagged, not on his bed but always behind the bathroom door. Lucian would have a bath after his exertions, wandering back into the studio naked. He would say, 'I've just had a bath to settle myself down and now we will carry on.'"
At one point, Greig asks the artist how he spent his time in the periods of his life when he seemed to have been slightly less than manically productive. "Well, there were girls," Freud remarked with some understatement.
The balance between Freud's devotion to his art and to his libido seems to have been always weighted toward the former, but that is a difficult emphasis for a biographer to observe. At times in his portrait of the artist, Greig seems at pains to remember, and to begin to analyse, the greatness of Freud as a painter, but generally, the story of the complicated parade of debutantes and heiresses and wives and daughters of close friends who shared Freud's bed (or bathroom), consecutively and concurrently, takes over. Greig's years as editor of theTatler prove invaluable here as love triangles become dodecahedrons: "In 1948, the year that Freud married Kitty," he will typically write, "and also when his first child Annie was born, he met Anne Dunn… a stunning charismatic 18-year-old artist with whom he would have an intermittent affair for the next 25 years. One time in Lucian's studio Anne was struck by some pictures she saw stacked up there, painted by Lorna Wishart's [a former lover] son Michael.
Two years after Lucian started his affair with Anne, she married Michael, and Michael confessed he had a brief sexual relationship with Lucian. To complete the circle, Kitty later revealed to her daughter, Annie, that she had had an affair with her Aunt Lorna's former lover and rival to Lucian: Laurie Lee (and in 1950, Lee married Lorna's niece…). And so on.
That Freud negotiated these webs of romance and deceit – there are 14 acknowledged children and maybe 30 more – is attributed to a couple of traits: his absolute absence of remorse or guilt, and his singular fidelity to his work. Greig absolves him from the fallout about as lightly as the painter absolved himself. Asked by the author: "Did you want children?" Freud replied: "No… but it seemed quite exciting when women were pregnant. I don't like babies. I think partly because they are so vulnerable. But I'm very good with older children." The children that Greig interviewed would appear to dispute the simplicity of that latter statement, though Greig asserts that they "loved him unreservedly".
Freud never professed any interest in his grandfather Sigmund's principal legacy and to his credit, the author does not attempt much in the way of sub-Freudian psychoanalysis of his subject. He leaves the reader to weigh any possible connections between Freud's emigre childhood (he escaped Nazi Germany aged 10), his lifelong anxiety about his own legitimacy (fuelled by the taunts of his estranged brothers, Clement and Stephen), his troubled relationship with his mother and his chaotic, creative life. Despite, or because, of all its anecdotal detail, however, this book does not convincingly lead you to an intimate understanding of the artist. For that you would, of course, be better off looking again at the paintings.
It is tricky to imagine a more alluring subject for a biographer than Lucian Freud. By the time of his death, aged 88, in the summer of 2011, the British painter was almost as famous for philandering as he was for his intense portraits in thick oils worth millions of pounds.
A Life by his friend William Feaver, a former art critic for The Observer, is due to be published in 2015. Before that, though, we have Breakfast with Lucian by Mail on Sunday editor Geordie Greig – an amuse-bouche, if you like, ahead of the main repast. The book is based on informal interviews with Freud conducted by Greig over breakfast at Clarke’s restaurant in west London during the final decade of the artist’s life.
Freud was private to a monomaniacal degree. An early request by Greig for an audience with the painter elicited a letter that read: “The idea of giving you an interview makes me feel sick.” So receiving regular invitations to Freud’s informal morning salons at Clarke’s, a few doors down from the artist’s Georgian town house in Notting Hill, was a victory for Greig, whose gift, on the evidence of this book, is as a persistent networker and subtle schmoozer capable of loosening the tightest of lips.
Breakfast with Lucian brims with quotations from Freud’s lovers, children, friends, sitters, dealers and associates, as well as from the artist himself. If the book were to be judged on access alone, it would be deemed superb. My favourite passages are those in which Greig quotes chunks of his interviews with Freud: in a flash, it feels as though we are chatting with the artist over a cup of tea, privy to his mischievous, witty and unbuttoned recollections. To his credit, Greig also records Freud’s destructive idiosyncrasies, while the final chapter, which deals with the artist’s death and its aftermath, is heartfelt and upsetting.
But there are several problems with this book, which, in my view, has suffered from the publisher’s rush to get it into print. It is not so much the typographical errors that grate – although misspelling the surname of “Damien Hurst [sic]” in a book about art is pretty bad. Nor is the rote writing an insurmountable problem – even if phrases such as “another mind-boggling merry-go-round of liaisons” or “more Wit-girl than It-girl” produce a sigh.
No, there are more fundamental flaws. We hear more than once about Freud’s frenzied driving, his reliance on the critical judgment of his painter friend Frank Auerbach, how “vile”, “ghastly” and “monstrous” he found his mother-in-law Maureen Dufferin, and the fact that he sat for almost 20 different portraits by Francis Bacon (though, in this instance, the tally fluctuates: 19 on page 28, but 18 on page 113). The cumulative impression is of slapdash editing or, worse, padding – as though brilliant material for a magazine profile has been stretched into a book.
Moreover, there is a pervasive undertone of snobbery. Freud’s Order of Merit is a “prestigious and exclusive honour”, while the “superiority” of Clarke’s over nearby restaurants is “evident” (perhaps because, as the preceding sentence informs us, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are customers). The name-dropping passages listing Freud’s liaisons are like gossip columns in Tatler, which Greig once edited, while several introductions to the artist’s acquaintances could be parodies of entries in Debrett’s: “Born Lady Anne Coke, daughter of the Earl of Leicester, she had been a Maid of Honour at the Queen’s Coronation alongside Jane Willoughby.”
I appreciate that Freud was besotted with high society, just as he was with the villainous underworld of the Kray twins. But still: there is too much fawning for a study of someone who generally disregarded society’s customs with such relish.
For me, though, the strangest thing about Breakfast with Lucian is that it contains so little of substance about painting – the presiding, obsessive activity of Freud’s life. Greig overloads the book with innumerable diverting but trivial details about the artist: Freud liked his Earl Grey tea milky, his painkiller of choice was Solpadeine, he had at least a dozen silk or light wool scarves, he drove a brown Bentley. His favourite table at the Wolseley restaurant on Piccadilly was number 32, though he sometimes settled for 25.
Yet when he describes the artist’s pictures, Greig offers few insights aside from the conventional: Freud “changed” portraiture; sex and painting for him “were not unconnected”. Even the chapter “Paint” ends with some stuff about the artist’s relationships with his lawyers. Despite Greig’s protestations (“In trying to understand the complexity that is Lucian Freud, it is necessary to stay focused on his art”), people, rather than paintings, are what his book is really about.
Freud deserves a biographer with a more nuanced understanding of his achievements. His charismatic personality served his art, not the other way around.
Los Angeles Times
The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain's Great Modern Painter
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 260 pp, $30
“Breakfast with Lucian," Geordie Greig's juicy, eye-popping book about Lucian Freud, the notoriously priapic painter best known for raw portraits that stripped his sitters bare in every sense, doesn't pretend to be objective or comprehensive. Greig offers a fond but by no means whitewashed account of how Freud's spectacularly messy life relates to his extraordinary body of work as "the greatest realist figurative painter of the twentieth century.
A grandson of Sigmund Freud, the budding artist escaped from Nazi Germany to England with his family when he was 10, in 1933. Greig writes, "Just like Sigmund, it was Lucian's business to get people to sit on beds or couches, and to reveal more about themselves than perhaps they wished to show."
Two years after the artist's death at 88, Greig, an arts journalist and editor who worked his way into Freud's confidence in the last 10 years of his life, reveals more about him than this adamantly private man might have wished to show. "Breakfast with Lucian" is at once broader in scope and more personal than art critic Martin Gaylord's fascinating 2010 book "Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud."
Greig makes the case that the closely connected obsessions that drove Freud were painting and sex, and he analyzes his art and "mind-boggling merry-go-round of liaisons" with equal finesse and fervor. That said, he reminds us that "In trying to understand the complexity that is Lucian Freud, it is necessary to stay focused on his art. The pictures tell who he slept with and spent time with. He mostly kept the names hidden but the paintings don't lie."
Freud got away with what Greig calls his "blatantly selfish life" by essentially charming the pants off people and then keeping his scores of lovers — and the many children they produced — hidden from one another. Freud dated 17-year-olds when he was 16 and continued to bed 17-year-olds well into his 70s. Many were younger than his daughters. Indeed, some were the daughters of former lovers or the girlfriends of the sons of former lovers.
"This was musical beds on a grand and anarchic scale," Greig writes, adding that Freud was "a relentless and somewhat cruel lover" but also "one of life's eels, always wriggling away from any and every grasp."
While not all of his models had sex with him, nearly all of his lovers modeled for him. The process was both an excruciating test of endurance and a path to further intimacy — and, as it turned out, immortality in oil. Greig explains: "It was never easy. Paint for Lucian was 'pain' with a 't' on the end, as one of his sitters noted."
Along with Freud's sexual profligacy and self-destructive passion for gambling, Greig captures the intensity of the artist's ambition and drive, his exacting work ethic and his numerous "splintered" friendships, including with fellow artist Francis Bacon. Greig's own friendship with Freud provides access to the chaos and squalor of his home and studio — littered with used brushes, flicked paint splotches and the carcasses of half-eaten dinners. His portrait comes alive with descriptions of Freud's "ferret-thin figure," "shabby-chic style," penchant for silk scarves, nougat candy, wads of cash and hair-raising drives in his brown Bentley.
Freud's outrageous, egregious behavior comes through more clearly than his oft-cited charm and magnetism. And although Greig surely deserves some sort of patience award for untangling Freud's snarled web of lovers, the bodies pile up not just alarmingly but a smidge tediously. (A notable exception is Guinness heiress Lady Caroline Blackwood, Freud's second and last wife, whose story Greig manages to follow all the way to her deathbed because of his relationship with her daughter, Ivana.)
The book becomes even more interesting when it turns to Freud's offspring — 14 of whom he acknowledged, borne by six mothers between 1948 and 1984. An appended family tree helps keep them straight, including the three born to three mothers in 1961. Greig says the numbers are no doubt higher, perhaps as great as 40.
Six daughters and one son posed naked for their father. "Journalists had a field day trying to explain the Freudian significance of children in their teens or early adulthood stripping bare for their father," Greig writes. Yet he contends that, although Freud's children craved more of him than he gave, "they all fell under his spell" and most "loved him unreservedly, despite all his obvious failures and complications as a father."
When he died in 2011, several had never met one another. All 14 were left equal portions of his staggering 96 million pounds estate.
Some may argue that paintings like "Hotel Bedroom," "Naked Man with Rat" and "And the Bridegroom" require neither explanations nor back-stories to convey their power. But Greig's book, a rare case in which the text and illustrations are equally gripping, brings into sharp focus this bold iconoclast who "pushed boundaries, artistic as well as sexual." Even better, it makes us look more closely and deeply — and see more.
12 October 2013
Cape, pp.272, £25, ISBN: 9780224096850
According to the medical historian Professor Sonu Shamdasani, Sigmund Freud was not the best, nor actually the most interesting, psychoanalyst in early 20th-century Vienna. Rather, Freud’s genius lay in creating a loyalty cult around himself, collecting a group of acolytes who would ensure his reputation. This is worth bearing in mind when considering the life of his grandson, the painter Lucian Freud, who died in 2011.
Lucian was famous for his secrecy. ‘Devious and secretive. I have been described as that,’ he tells Geordie Greig, not without a certain pride. He demanded a strict omertà of his intimates. There was a great deal to be furtive about: vast gambling debts, literally hundreds of lovers, many children by many mothers; in one year alone, three of them born to three women. Almost no one had his telephone number and he kept people in compartments, so that they could not confer. (Someone of his grandfather’s profession might have observed that he thus split off parts of himself as a safeguard against his devouring mother.) Even the pictures in his studio were stacked with the paint facing the wall. One lover describes peeking at other portraits when the artist was out of the room, to find out who else he was involved with.
Geordie Greig, who knew him well, here reveals more about Freud than has ever been in print before. He has interviewed a quantity of friends, sitters, children and lovers who were willing to break their long silence.One of the most revealing interviews is with Freud’s bookmaker. The book is excellent on Freud’s extraordinary charisma, which worked its magic equally on women, men, animals and children. An especially charming passage — with accompanying photographs — describes Freud’s easy playfulness with Greig’s young children. The dark glamour is here, too: Freud drove Bentleys very fast, consorted with the Kray twins, played dangerous games of cat and mouse with bookies to whom he owed money, ate partridges with his bare hands and painted all night. ‘I like tension,’ says Freud.
The best portraits bring their sitters vividly to life, and this book does just that. There can be no greater compliment than to say that Greig makes the reader feel exactly as if they have met Lucian Freud. And what exhilarating company he is, to begin with: quoting poems, singing old Cole Porter songs, gossiping, making jokes. About his recently deceased (and hated) brother Clement Freud he quips: ‘He’s dead now. Always was actually.’ When James Goldsmith threatens to murder him if he ever paints Goldsmith’s daughter, Freud replies with a note: ‘Is that a commission?’
And yet. Freud was blithe about the fact that he only ever did exactly what he wanted to do; which, luckily for the gallery-visiting public, was paint. But an entirely selfish life leaves casualties. Some of these were minor: the waiters he tore into, the people he got into fist-fights with for no very real reason. Among those who knew and loved him, the damage was worse. Devoted to him though his children appear to have been, he was only ever a father on his own terms. Fairness didn’t come into it. He plainly liked some of them better than others, although Greig tries not to say this too loudly. They sat for him because it gave them the chance, perhaps their only chance, to spend time with him.
Freud fell out with people, sometimes spectacularly. He very seldom forgave. Many great artists have behaved badly: being unconventional is a badge of honour among them, after all. But what of vengefulness, cruelty, preying on the young, the weak? In this account, Freud appears to have systematically sought out and seduced the teenaged daughters and nieces of his former friends and lovers. Themselves the sometimes neglected children of artists, drinkers and writers, they were vulnerable and easily won. Greig describes a shameful episode in which Freud slept with the extremely fragile daughter of a woman who had left him many years before. Not long afterwards this young woman died of a heroin overdose, at 17. She was my childhood friend, as her mother had been my mother’s. She had long tangly hair and freckles. She was such a sweet girl.
We do not tolerate such behaviour in our light entertainers. Does being an important artist absolve Freud? While his stature as a painter is not, of course, affected by his private affairs, in the end this aspect of his life diminishes him and the myth of himself he took such pains to construct. The enchantment, the wit, the mystery, even the brooding and hawk-like physical beauty lose their allure.
Not that this seems to have been the intention of the author, who very much admired Freud, even loved him. But a good biographer must put the curiosity of the reader before the character of their subject, by which criterion Geordie Greig is a very good biographer indeed.
The Washington Post
BREAKFAST WITH LUCIAN
The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter
By Geordie Greig Farrar Straus Giroux. 260 pp.
As great a portrait painter as Lucian Freud was, you wouldn’t want him to depict Santa Claus for your Christmas cards. Either the jolly old elf’s face would be seen in close-up, revealing laugh lines as wrinkles and dimples as warts, or he would be shown lying full-length on a dirty futon totally naked, a bowlful of human jelly.
This isn’t to say that Freud’s late paintings are anywhere near the violent grotesqueries of Francis Bacon or the thickly layered semi-abstractions of Frank Auerbach, both his longtime friends. Tastes will differ, but none of these three artists — titans of 20th-century British art — produced work that could be described as pretty or attractive. Yet even when you don’t like what you see, there’s no doubt that it’s art — and haunting, upsetting, unforgettable art, at that.
Lucian Freud (1922-2011) was the grandson of Sigmund Freud, and it sometimes seems as though he managed to live out all the impulses that the founder of psychoanalysis claimed, approvingly, that most civilized people repress. Totally self-centered, full of loathing for his mother, alienated from his two brothers, Freud was obsessed with art, women, gambling, the upper classes and thugs. He seems to have slept with most of his female models, except his daughters (whom he painted nude). No one, by the way, is quite sure about the number of his children, though Freud himself acknowledged 14, two by his first wife and at least a dozen by various girlfriends.
Geordie Greig — editor of the Mail on Sunday — got to know the painter during the last decade of Freud’s life, when the two would often share breakfast at a Notting Hill restaurant. “In that quiet space,” writes the biographer, “Lucian’s conversation ranged from dating Greta Garbo to the best way to land a punch without breaking your thumb, to how he had popped in to 10 Downing Street to see Gordon Brown, or had been to a nightclub with Kate Moss, or had sold a picture for an eye-watering sum.” Freud might then change the subject to “how Chardin, in 1735, had painted ‘the most beautiful ear in art’ in a picture called The Young Schoolmistress.”
From childhood, Freud was fiercely independent, secretive and pugnacious, often getting into fights even in old age. “In the 1960s,” writes Greig, “the Thane of Cawdor” — how wonderful that there are still thanes of Cawdor — “crept up to him at the Cuckoo Club in Piccadilly at around 4 a.m. and lit a newspaper that he was reading. Lucian hit him in the face before they sat down and shared a drink and a cigar. In his eighties, Lucian had a fist fight in a supermarket in Holland Park after a dispute at the checkout.” (As I said, the painter seems to have acted on all our own repressed desires.) Greig neatly sums up Freud: “All his life he got away with it” — and “it” could be just about anything.
In his youth, Freud was movie-star handsome, lean, curly-haired and intense, as well as attractive to both sexes. Besides women, he entranced the bisexual poet Stephen Spender — for my money, the best-connected figure in all 20th-century English literary history — and the heterosexual cultural grandee Cyril Connolly. In later years, Freud possessed the aura of a down-at-the-heels dandy, often wearing an unironed but handmade white shirt, a silk scarf tied rakishly around his neck, a shabby but expensive cashmere overcoat and black workman’s boots. “When he flew to New York to see a show of his work,” remarks Greig, “ he packed just one shirt which he carried in a plastic bag.” At once extravagant and bohemian, Freud was notably generous to his sitters, often giving them paintings and sometimes even houses. He paid for his meals with crisp 50-pound notes and kept wads of cash secreted around his studio.
The love of Freud’s early life proved to be an equally free-spirited married woman named Lorna Wishart, a daughter of the notoriously wild Garman family, who was then carrying on a simultaneous affair with the poet Laurie Lee (now best remembered for his memoir “Cider with Rosie”). When Lorna broke off with Freud because he began cheating on her with a younger woman, the artist turned around and married her niece Kitty. But during the first year of that marriage, the painter started seeing an 18-year-old named Anne Dunn on the side. Here’s where relationships become exponentially complicated, in a Bloomsbury-Brideshead sort of way:
“One time in Lucian’s studio, Anne was struck by some pictures she saw stacked up there, painted by Lorna’s son Michael. Two years after Lucian started an affair with Anne, she married Michael, and Michael then confessed to Anne that he had had a brief sexual relationship with Lucian. To complete the circle, Kitty later revealed to her daughter Annie that she had had an affair with her aunt Lorna’s former lover and rival to Lucian: Laurie Lee.” Matters don’t stop there, not by a long shot. Having lost Freud to Anne, his wife, Kitty, began a liaison with the novelist Henry Green. Lucian then met and soon wed Lady Caroline Blackwood, “heart-stoppingly beautiful,” according to composer Ned Rorem, as well as the heir to Guinness money through her mother. Blackwood went on to write macabre, darkly comic novels and to marry twice more — her third husband was the poet Robert Lowell, who died in a New York taxicab clutching one of Freud’s portraits of her. When biographer Greig reveals that Blackwood’s daughter Ivana later became his girlfriend, one is hardly even surprised. But then virtually all these intertwinings continue even unto the third generation. For instance, Freud tried to seduce the 22-year-old girlfriend of Francis Wishart, who was the grandson of his lover Lorna Wishart and the son of his lovers Anne Dunn and Michael Wishart. Whoever coined the phrase “No sex, please, we’re British,” clearly didn’t move in artistic circles.
While Greig does discuss Freud’s art, dwelling on the late nudes rather than the more likable early portraits, he’s hardly Erwin Panofsky. His main focus in “Breakfast with Lucian” is gossip and scandal and naughtiness among the rich, gifted and socially prominent. He also lingers over Freud’s gambling and his dealings with criminals, including the infamous Kray brothers. To pay off Freud’s debts, one shrewd bookie, himself a betting man, regularly accepted art in lieu of cash and ended up “owning twenty-five paintings, possibly the largest collection of Lucian’s work in private hands.”
In stark contrast, the billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Goldsmith once told Freud that if he ever painted Goldsmith’s daughter, he would have the artist murdered. A charming monster, Lucian Freud never lied about himself or his personal life, yet resolutely believed that “the only point of getting up every morning” was “to paint, to make something good, to make something even better than before, not to give up, to compete, to be ambitious.” He lived to be 88, unstoppable and shocking to the last.
Wednesday 18 December 2013
Breakfast with Lucian: A Portrait of the Artist, by Geordie Greig – review
Fascinating and appalling: the most revealing account of Lucian Freud ever written
Geordie Greig‘s book is an unapologetic mixture of intelligent perception and high gossip. It deepens the reader's understanding of Lucian Freud, as both man and artist, but it also connives with the kind of mythology that stultifies inquiry. It is both fascinating and appalling. Freud had a reputation for being a man with no boundaries. This book likewise heeds no conventional restraints, mixes genres, seeps into questionable places, and fills gaps with cumulatively repetitive and often mawkish interviews with Freud's models, or connective passages that might have come straight out of Who's Who – were they not entirely concerned with sexual history. And yet no person interested in Freud will ignore this book. It is, overall, more revealing than anything about him yet written.
It begins benignly, in Clarke's, a light-filled upmarket restaurant, with starched white tablecloths, in Kensington Church Street. Here, for at least the last decade of his life, Freud breakfasted most days of the week. He would enter via the delicatessen next door, as breakfast is not normally served, and was usually accompanied by David Dawson, his assistant, who brought all the broadsheets and the Daily Mail, which they spread over the large circular table at the back of the room. Guests, too, might be invited, especially on Saturday mornings, when the gathering sometimes swelled to a small salon. One regular was Greig. Sometimes he brought his three children. Freud, with the sweetness of age, pretended to take cherries out of their ears, sang ditties, recited poems by Walter de la Mare or Rudyard Kipling, or drummed on the table with his spoon or fist.
It is good to be reminded of his charm. Only a few pages further on, stories about him, reported by his bookmaker friend Victor Chandler, show him behaving like a foul-mouthed drunken lout. A camp waiter irritates him with a teasing remark and he lashes out verbally and with his fists. At the River Café, he and Victor walk in next to two couples and Freud is instantly offended by the overpowering perfume worn by the two women. He shouts out: "I hate perfume. Women should smell of one thing: cunt. In fact they should invent a perfume called cunt." This story is made additionally nasty by the observation, on Chandler's part, that the two couples were north London Jewish: anyone living more than half a mile north of Hyde Park was beyond the pale in Freud's world, but he was himself Jewish, and if, as Chandler suggests, there was antisemitism behind his crass protest, it was not only "strange" but inexcusable.
But we are used to shocks and uneasiness in connection with Freud as they are the stuff of his art. His powerful paintings attract and repel, sharply dividing his audiences into those who admire or abhor. Few escape the frisson they generate in the viewer. Lawrence Gowing, in the first extensive survey of Freud's art, argued that, even when familiar, his pictures continue to shock, owing to "unpredicted discords", "unsparing involvement" or "the chill of incongruity". Gowing ventured the idea that Freud wanted painting to be found embarrassing. And he may be right. Freud famously promoted the naked portrait, in such a way as to disturb and disconcert the viewer. And perhaps nowhere more so than when he included in one of these a live rat.
Animals recur in Freud's portraits, often adding a touch of tenderness that can be lacking in the figure. He brilliantly conveys the weight and feel of a dog's paw or muzzle as it rests on limb or in lap. It is said that he took pride in his grandfather Sigmund Freud, not as the founding father of psychoanalysis, but because originally he was a skilful zoologist and the first to identify the sexual difference between male and female eels. But in Naked Man with Rat (1977-78), the animal, drugged with a sleeping pill and Veuve Clicquot, arouses no sense of mutual sympathy between it and the sitter, even though the man reclines with one hand over the rat and its tail is draped over his naked thigh, close to his genitals, fully revealed by the splayed legs. Knowing how long Freud's portraits take to paint, the sitter, Raymond Jones, asked if the rat needed to be present at the start of the portrait. Couldn't it come in later? "No," Freud replied, "because it is the whole emotional attitude that matters … If the rat were not there your mind would be working differently."
"If you don't know them," Freud once said of his sitters, a portrait "can only be like a travel book." He also claimed that it was wrong to look for resemblance in a portrait and that he wanted his own portraits to be "of" people, not "like" them.
Any possibility of a trite summary is banished by Freud's insistence on close observation over a long period of time, a method best described, in detail, by Martin Gayford in his account of sitting for Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf. Gayford was pleased to enjoy supper with Freud after the sittings but soon realised that Freud's scrutiny of him continued as they chatted.
But it is often hard to pin down the psychological matter in a Freud portrait. Greig, after seeing Naked Man with Rat as a schoolboy, sensed risk and danger, and felt he was "left in no doubt that truth could hurt". Yet any narrative is deliberately withheld; the parts remain separate, as the eye registers the sitter's raised arm and open hand, the held rat and its pointing tail, the genitals and the blank upward stare on the sitter's face. The painting achieves the "intensification of reality" that Freud sought, but it remains a travel book: its truths still trapped in mere outward appearance.
Threaded through Greig's book is the story of his obsession with Freud over 33 years. It began at the age of 17 when, thanks to the insight of an English teacher at Eton, he was taken to an exhibition of Freud's art at the gallery belonging to Anthony d'Offay, then a leading contemporary art dealer. Smitten, Greig began writing to Freud at intervals, but for years received no reply, until he was able to use his position in the world of journalism, as literary editor of the Sunday Times and then editor of Tatler, to draw a response.
He finally met Freud face to face and found himself "in Freudland". It was, he says, "all so familiar from the paintings – bare floorboards, torn sheets piled up, rickety kitchen chairs, a decadent sense of neglect". But it no doubt helped that, while living in New York, Greig had an affair with the daughter of one of Freud's two wives, Caroline Blackwood, by her second marriage. One of the games Greig plays, perhaps too often in this book, is spotting the near-incestuous connections between Freud's lovers and friends.
Owing to the commission Freud received to paint the Queen, he is linked with Van Dyck in Greig's mind. Both men, the book argues, conquered English society as the most formidable portraitists of their age. But Van Dyck set a model for aristocratic and society portraiture that impressed Joshua Reynolds and survives to this day.
Freud, on the other hand, has so far failed to convert contemporary portraitists, with their love of surface tricksiness, to the virtues of intense, obsessive scrutiny. Yet who can forget his small portrait Francis Bacon, not seen since it was stolen in 1988, or his profound record of the searing melancholy in John Minton's character? Given the conundrum of Freud, we might ask, in Thomas Mann's words: "Who shall unravel the mystery of an artist's nature and character! And who shall explain the profound instinctual fusion of discipline and licence on which it rests!"
Oct 26th 2013 |
By Geordie Greig.
LUCIAN FREUD was the greatest figurative painter of the 20th century, says Geordie Greig in his spirited new book, “Breakfast with Lucian”. He was certainly one of the most successful: Freud left £96m ($156m) on his death in 2011 at the age of 88. Most of this was divided equally between the 14 children (by various mothers) whom he recognised as his. Lady Lucinda Lambton is quoted as adding another ten “possibles” who were not acknowledged. She herself was neither one of Freud’s lovers (though her mother, Bindy, Viscountess Lambton, had been) nor one of the children. Freud had a particular fondness for titled women. His second wife was the daughter of a marquess, and his most loyal lover was a baroness in her own right.
Mr Greig is Freud’s Boswell. He delighted in Freud’s work from his school days. As a journalist, he spent years trying to get an interview with his hero. By means of what journalists recognise as rat-like cunning, allied to a personable manner, he wormed his way into Freud’s confidence and became a regular breakfast companion. A dedicated networker and an inspired gossip, Mr Greig has produced a small, highly readable life of the artist.
Lucian Freud was born in Berlin, a grandson of Sigmund, whose eminence helped the whole family to obtain British citizenship just before the outbreak of war in 1939. Lucian, who remembers Sigmund fondly, was a perennial outsider who infiltrated the British establishment. He became a Companion of Honour and was awarded the Order of Merit by the queen. His painting of an obese woman sold for £17.2m in 2008, then the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist. However, the book focuses not on his painting but on his celebrity.
The artist guarded his private life jealously. Rumours circulated, but his friends protected him. Mr Greig writes of Freud’s art and his life being seamlessly joined, sometimes literally; Freud could interrupt a sitting to make love to a visitor in the next room. Lady Lucinda says he was as magical as he was malign, a totally bewitching, terrifyingly clever figure who had an undoubted streak of evil. Discarded lovers were redistributed among his friends and acquaintances until they begat enough relationships to recall the Old Testament. He may have been cuckolded, but only once, and then it was by Picasso.
Freud, who loved risk, was also a compulsive gambler, and his debts were staggering. The largest single collection of his works was owned by a bookie, Alfie McLean, an Ulsterman, who bought some and took others in lieu of gambling debts. But there was still £2.7m outstanding when William Acquavella, Freud’s new dealer, sorted out the problem. Once his paintings began to sell for millions, Freud gave up gambling completely. His appetite for risk being sated, he was able to build up the fortune he left to his children. Mr Greig’s is a compelling portrait of a complete amoralist who became a .
27 september 2013
During daily visits to Clarke’s restaurant, “Mr Freud” entertained London’s glitterati, including his future memoirist Geordie Greig. The painter was the last true bohemian, he tells Nick Curtis
For 15 years until his death aged 88 in 2011, Lucian Freud, the great and unsparing British painter of flesh and frailty, took breakfast and usually lunch at Sally Clarke’s eponymous restaurant, a short walk from his house on Kensington Church Street. “He started coming into our shop and just sat in the little café we had in the back,” says Clarke. “I don’t think I knew who he was. He came in a discreet way, usually with his assistant David Dawson, at about 7.30 every day — as soon as the paper shop opened and they could get their stack of three papers.” They read and talked while Freud devoured the milky coffee and huge pains aux raisin that fed his sweet tooth.
“As time went on other customers got to know who he was and his habits in terms of his timing, and there were perhaps certain times when he was being bothered,” Clarke continues, “so I invited him to use the restaurant, which was closed in the mornings before lunch and in the afternoons before dinner, so he could have some private space.” This table saw a vivid cross-section of life: famous sitters from Kate Moss to Leigh Bowery, the great and good gallerists and dealers of the art world, David Hockney and Frank Auerbach, Bono and Roman Abramovich, but also bookmakers, builders, a selection of Freud’s estimated 500 lovers and several of his 14 acknowledged children.
For 10 of those 15 years, a regular breakfast guest was Geordie Greig, the editor by turns of Tatler magazine, the Evening Standard and now the Mail on Sunday. Greig had been bewitched by Freud’s portraits, nude and clothed, as a 17-year-old schoolboy, and sought to coax the artist into print throughout his journalistic career. His persistence was eventually rewarded as a one-sided correspondence matured into a professional acquaintance and then a friendship across many years, many late-night phone calls, and many, many breakfasts.
Although Freud was fiercely private he allowed Greig to take notes and later to record sessions, while he talked about painting and punch-ups, wives and lovers, escaping from Nazism or tattooing Kate Moss’s bottom. He disclosed his dislike of his mother and two brothers, his contempt for Prince Charles (as a painter, at least). These tapes, and subsequent startlingly frank interviews with several Freud family members, lovers and acquaintances, would result in Greig’s book, Breakfast with Lucian — “not a biography, but a portrait of the artist, an intimate snapshot of the last 10 years of his life, written with the benefit of immediacy”.
Greig first met Freud over breakfast. After years of writing to the artist he sent a postcard hinting at “a brilliant idea that I must discuss with you in person” and was summoned to Freud’s Holland Park studio at 6.45am. “There was this silhouette of a man in these paint-speckled butcher’s trousers and a wrinkled, rumpled shirt and crumpled silk scarf, and this eagle-like stare. It reminded me of Samuel Beckett. That intense scrutiny.” Greig entered a scene of “gilded chaos, the last gasp of bohemia” with spattered rags and paintings everywhere, and joined Freud in a breakfast of Burgundy and the carcass of yesterday’s partridge. He told Freud he’d like him to be in a portrait to be taken for Tatler of Frank Auerbach, his oldest artist friend and a fellow refugee from Hitler.
Freud acceded, and the photograph was duly taken, over an offal-y breakfast at the Cock Tavern in Smithfield, again at 6.45am, after which Freud gave Greig a hair-raising lift home — “ignoring red lights, taking corners on a skid” — to west London. “The most extraordinary conversation took place,” Greig recalls. “Anecdotes and opinions, strong views and dislikes. I just thought this was the most riveting man I had ever met.
“What we first of all had in common was that my last girlfriend before I got married, when I was working in America, was his second wife Caroline Blackwood’s daughter. I used to see a lot of Caroline and we loved discussing Caroline. That led to us talking about the Forties. I was always interested in Ian Fleming’s books and his life, and Freud would regale me with stories of staying in Jamaica in the days of Fleming and Noël Coward. He started to call me at odd hours. During the second Blair election he would ring me up at 2.30 in the morning to ask who was winning, and talk about how he knew Eden, from there on to Churchill and [artist] Graham Sutherland. Without ever a sense of name-dropping. That [relationship] fused and merged until breakfast with him became a regular event.
It was a pure pleasure to be able to spend time with him. He was like the Forrest Gump of the cultural world of Britain in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st — everyone seemed to cross his path, from Greta Garbo to WH Auden to Stephen Spender to the Krays to Kate Moss. There was something incredibly special about this mind that could recite nine stanzas of a Kipling poem, a bit of Goethe, or lyrics from a song he heard in the Merchant Navy in the Thirties. There was a crystallisation of incredible memories and hard opinions and humour, which made him the best company in the world.”
Good company, perhaps, but a feckless, selfish, sometimes cruel lover and father. Greig does not judge, but presents Freud as Freud presented his subjects: warts and all, as it were. The painter comes across like one of the stallions he so admired and lost so much money on, galloping through society, siring children hither and yon before hurtling off after the next filly. There is a plaintive, aching undertow of loss and rejection beneath the quotes of those of Freud’s children who spoke to Greig, even when they are defending their father. “He was straightforward in his candour,” says the author. “He was the most selfish person he could be, because he was an artist who pursued with absolute focus his desire to paint the best pictures he possibly could in the course of his lifetime.”
The sexual affairs and betrayals are boggling in their scope and labyrinthine in their complexity, and were conducted without concern for feelings or propriety: the testimony of a lover who remembers him physically hurting her is heartbreaking. One sitter, Raymond Jones, recalls Freud breaking off from a nude sitting to shag an unnamed female visitor against the bathroom door, have a bath, then return to work, naked. You couldn’t call Freud indiscriminate: the lovers identified in the book are all beautiful, or exotic, or rich, or titled, or some combination of all four. And they were, it seems, all women. Although there is a frisson of ambivalence about a figure so recklessly carnal and heedless of boundaries, and a suggestion that he might have had an affair with Stephen Spender, Freud told a female friend the only man he ever wanted to have sex with was the jockey Lester Piggott.
So much of his life was hectic: the painting, the rutting, the gambling, the feuding. No wonder he sought solace in a quiet breakfast. Sally Clarke always regarded him as a customer first and a friend second, and always called him “Mr Freud”, even though she sat for two paintings and an etching by him, and once drew her own portrait of him for a National Portrait Gallery postcard auction. “I kick myself for not keeping the one I did; it was a rather lovely little line drawing,” she says. “I did it over breakfast. He was fantastic as a subject but I couldn’t get the nose right.” She clearly misses Freud, although David Dawson still comes in for breakfast. “I see him every day,” says Clarke. “He was left Mr Freud’s house so he is slowly but surely moving in. He’s ripping the garden apart and he got into terrible trouble with the local council, I think, for felling a tree the other week.”
Freud’s passing did not just bring to an end a prodigious artistic career and an extraordinary life, but an era. His house is changing. Clarke’s has been remodelled; the place where he first sat in the café is now a ladies’ lavatory. Clarke herself will turn 60 next year, and is looking for a helpmeet-cum-successor to “take the reins” of the restaurant she has run for 24 years. The idea of what an artist, or a lover, or a father is has changed in today’s world. “It would be difficult to get away with a life of such self-imposed selfishness,” says Greig. “He didn’t allow the noise to get to him. Never had a mobile phone, never used a computer, and gave very few people his phone number so he could have seclusion. He was the last bohemian. It is difficult to imagine the life [now] of such drama, intent and serious ambition, with a desire to follow the path he needed to be Lucian Freud.”
Friday 04 October 2013
An intimate and unpretty memoir of a private person – which the late artist would have loathed
During his lifetime, the painter Lucian Freud guarded his privacy. He chose to see whom he saw, and did so entirely on his terms. He kept friends, lovers, acquaintances separate from one another. He seldom gave out his telephone number. At any private view of his work, you could be sure of at least one thing alone: Freud himself would be absent.
He was not to know that at a certain point in his later life a charming young Etonian called Geordie Greig, currently the editor of the Mail on Sunday, would take it upon himself to get to know the great no-show. The project was hatched after Greig found himself visually ravished by an exhibition of Freud's paintings at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery when the author of this memoir was still a schoolboy. In time, thanks to Greig's tireless stalking of his victim, that encounter would develop into a fully blown friendship of trust.
In fact, during the last decade of Freud's life, as this book documents so meticulously, Greig became a favoured friend at the breakfast table. Not long after the book begins, we see photographs of Freud with Greig's young children at Sally Clarke's restaurant in Kensington, where those breakfasts took place. We even read a note in Freud's childish hand referring to one of those breakfast meetings: a talismanic detail, we are perhaps supposed to think, heart-flutteringly.
Earlier still, cunning Greig had inveigled Freud into being photographed by a very clever ruse indeed. He told him that he wanted to take a photograph of Freud's oldest friend, the painter Frank Auerbach, a fellow exile from Nazi Germany, and asked Freud whether he would be in the frame too. Freud, who loathed the random attention of photographers, agreed – for Auerbach's sake. Greig quietly boasts that, at the point he gained Freud's assent, Auerbach had not even been approached.
In short, this is the kind of intimate and unpretty memoir that Freud would have utterly loathed, and which its prurient readers will delight to read. It unzips Freud. It describes his single-minded dedication to painting and shagging and outrageous gambling – the three uproariously risk-taking pursuits went hand in hand. Freud's selfishness, his disregard for the feelings of other people, seem almost saintly in the purity of their single-mindedness. He went after what he wanted, and he generally got it. His was a life lived extravagantly on the outer edge.
Alas, the book is not quite what Tom Wolfe, trumpeting its virtues on its jacket, tells us to expect. It is not a flawlessly crafted portrait. It tells us a lot about the mess and the mayhem and the horror of Freud's life, but it is not written especially well. And in spite of the fact that it may look rather glamorous, it is quite sloppily edited too – how can any self-respecting publisher overlook the fact that Damien Hirst's surname is not spelled Hurst? In fact, it reads like a stitching together of a collection of racy tabloid features.
Unsurprisingly, the book has been crawled over by lawyers, such is its defamatory potential. Entire chorus lines of life models-turned-lovers high-kick through its pages. Yet some are treated with kid gloves. Kate Moss gets very careful treatment indeed. There is no suggestion that he bedded her. The book's rawest moments concern his umpteen hard-done-by children (certifiably 14, but perhaps more still waiting to declare themselves): how they admired and felt betrayed by him in just about equal measure for his indifference, his coldness, his absenteeism.
The story ends well for Freud himself. Having spent so much of his life living in the shadow of Francis Bacon, that international art celebrity, Freud's reputation – and his prices – soared in the last 15 years of his life. A New York dealer by the name of William Acquavella took him on, his eighth. He alone did what Freud always demanded from his dealers. He paid him in cash, up front. By his death, Freud's undying commitment to figurative painting no longer seemed yawn-worthy.
DEC 9, 2013, VOL. 19, NO. 13 •
BY HENRIK BERING
Freud’s acquaintances were found at the extremes of society, among the shady types in Soho and the aristocracy: “I travel vertically, not horizontally,” he said. At both ends, he found a rejection of the normal constraints of bourgeois society. Of his artist colleagues, Freud’s closest friend was Francis Bacon, Freud’s most successful portrait of whom Robert Hughes once characterized as “a grenade a fraction of a second before it explodes.” When Bacon returned the favor, the results were less immediately recognizable—although this didn’t prevent the typically smudged Bacon triptych of Freud from recently becoming the most expensive painting ever sold at auction ($142.4 million). The two frequented the Colony Room, a notorious watering hole on Soho’s Dean Street, and though different in styles, both stayed clear of abstract and conceptual art. For a long time, Bacon was the successful one while Freud was written off as a “parochial sideshow,” especially in America. When Freud started making money, Bacon became jealous and ended their friendship.
With his aura of menace and feral energy, Freud was irresistible to women. He was charming and well-read, could recite poetry by Goethe, Eliot, and Yeats, as well as naughty quatrains by the Earl of Rochester—whatever the occasion called for. And he moved well, “slid[ing] across the kitchen linoleum in his socks as if on skates.” He was also a nifty dancer. One admirer, Lady Lucinda Lambton, described him as being “as magical as he was malign,” with an evil streak like “a silver thread through a pound note. . . . I worshipped every inch of him while being terrified.” Keeping track of all his mistresses can be complicated: At one point, he was even sleeping with his ex-wife’s daughter. He fathered at least 14 acknowledged children, although 30-40 might be a truer estimate. He refused to have any of his offspring live with him, as this would interfere with his painting.
The one constant in this general chaos was his obsession with work. Starting out, he had used a linear style, inspired by the old German masters, and worked with tiny brushes. But prodded by critics, and by Bacon, he changed to broader brushes and looser strokes. Disliking bright colors, he favored a palette of grays and browns. He was also an extremely slow painter. When he was working on Two Plants(1977-80), a mistress and model notes, “he was working on it obsessively leaf by leaf, almost as if they were growing at the plants’ own rate.” Sitting for Freud tested the subject’s endurance, as documented in Martin Gayford’s account Man with a Blue Scarf (2010), and if Freud did not like the result, he would destroy it. In some cases, he had professional thieves snatch from galleries those of his works he considered substandard.
While he did not smudge the faces of sitters, as Bacon delighted in doing, Freud deliberately made his people ugly. When his friend Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, commander of the Household Cavalry, complained that his stomach appeared to be bursting through his open uniform jacket, Freud promptly added extra fat to it. His 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth was pronounced by one critic to rival Quentin Massys’s Grotesque Old Woman (1525) for the title of “world’s ugliest portrait.”
For a man who did not want to be regarded as a “freak painter,” Freud produced his share of human oddities, such as his nude portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and a 300-pound female social services worker. Not to mention Naked Man with Rat (1977-78), the painting that first captured Greig’s imagination as a schoolboy, in which the model’s private parts loom larger than the rat. While readers are likely to be less enchanted by the painting than Greig appears to be, it is nice to know that, in order to quiet the rat, it was fed half a sleeping pill, crushed and dissolved in Veuve Clicquot and served in a dog bowl.
In keeping with the Romantic ideal of the soothsayer/madman/genius, Greig’s admiration for Freud’s work occasionally makes him appear to forgive some of the monstrous behavior that he documents so well. He also overstates Freud’s originality: In contrast to many contemporaries, Freud could, indeed, paint—as proved by his portraits of David Hockney and Martin Gayford, and his superb renderings of dogs and horses. But in his cultivation of the aesthetically and morally offensive, he conformed entirely to the prevailing tastes of his day.
We might wish he had spent his talent on worthier subjects, but then he would not have been Lucian Freud.
Henrik Bering is a journalist and critic.
29 September 2013
Geordie Greig got hooked on Lucian Freud when in 1978, aged 17, he was taken on a day trip from Eton to see a Freud show in London. He was particularly impressed by a portrait of a naked man sprawled on a bed holding a rat worryingly close to his genitals. Many years later, Greig tracked the sitter down. He was an interior decorator called Raymond Jones who remembered that Freud kept the rat quiescent with champagne. He also remembered that sittings were sometimes interrupted by a knock on the door, and a woman darting through the studio to the bathroom where Freud would shag her, very noisily, before returning to his easel.
Greig learnt this background only recently, after Freud had died in 2011. His immediate reaction on seeing the painting in 1978 was to write and ask Freud to do an interview for the Eton magazine. Freud never replied. Greig wrote further requests over the years, but with no success until 2002, when, as the editor of Tatler, he asked Freud to pose for a photograph with his great friend the painter Frank Auerbach. Freud was pleased with the result and eventually suggested Greig come to Clarke's, a restaurant near his home in Kensington Church Street, where he breakfasted every day with his assistant David Dawson. Greig became a frequent breakfast guest for the last 10 years of Freud's life, and was finally allowed to record some of their conversations and even take photographs - there are some charming ones in this book.
Freud was almost insanely secretive - partly because he often had huge gambling debts and believed that gangsters were out to get him, but also because he hated people knowing anything about him. His mother, he explained, had been smotheringly nosy and he always shunned her for that reason - he could only paint her after she was widowed and deep in depression. But the habit of secrecy that started in boyhood (he was born in 1922) lasted throughout his life. His flat officially belonged to one of his mistresses, Jane Willoughby, and he did not appear on the electoral register; few people knew his phone number, and he often changed it. He liked to keep his friends, lovers and children apart. His eldest daughter, Annie Freud, only found out when she was 27 that Freud had other children - a young man introduced himself in a restaurant saying, "I am your long-lost baby brother, Ali." He was one of Freud's four children by Suzy Boyt, and also knew his half-siblings Bella and Esther by Bernardine Coverley. Annie had never known of their existence and went through a period of thinking è¶³everyone she met could be another sibling. "I had no way of acknowledging my feelings of betrayal until later on when I had a nervous breakdown."
Greig does more to disentangle Freud's complicated love life than any previous writer - though no doubt there will be plenty more to come. He believes he had 500 lovers, but even that could be an underestimate. One of his early girlfriends, Anne Dunn, said, "He was completely unstoppable. He would go for anyone and anything." (Including men, possibly - the artist Michael Wishart, the son of Freud's first love, Lorna Wishart, always claimed to have had an affair with him.) But Dunn was warned by another of Freud's mistresses that he could be quite sadistic and eventually that happened to her - "It was horrible; he was hurting my breasts, hitting and squeezing, really painful", and she refused to sleep with him again.
Greig believes that Freud's great love was his second wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, the one that got away, but the one who lasted longest was Jane - Baroness Willoughby de Eresby - a fabulously rich Scottish landowner who was close to Freud from the 1950s to the end of his life. She never married or had children and, perhaps significantly, Freud never painted her naked. One of his last affairs was with the journalist Emily Bearn, when she was in her twenties and he in his late seventies. Most unusually, he asked her to live with him, he was so smitten. She had previously had an affair with Alexander Chancellor, husband of another long-standing Freud mistress, Susanna Chancellor, and eventually went back to him and they had a child.
But the person who was closest to Freud for at least the last decade of his life was his assistant and constant companion, Dawson. Freud's last (unfinished) painting was a portrait of Dawson with his beloved whippet, Eli; David Hockney said of it that, after so many loveless nudes, "He couldn't stop himself showing the love in that final painting." Freud left Dawson his Notting Hill house and £2.5m - the rest of his £96m estate went into a trust fund to be distributed among his children. He officially acknowledged 14 offspring (three born in the same year, 1961, to three different mothers), but friends reckon there were more like 20.
As well as sorting out the mistresses, Greig has also interviewed some of Freud's less well-known sitters and got a handle on his financial affairs. Freud was a wild and reckless gambler in his youth - he once owed half a million to the Kray brothers and cancelled a show because he didn't want them turning up - and often paid off bookmakers with paintings. One of them, Alfie McLean (portrayed as 'The Big Man'), ended up owning 25 Freuds. His favourite bookmaker, Victor Chandler, who also sat for him, told Greig, "I really did love him and would do anything for him." He bought him silk scarves from Sulka in New York; he even sent a man called Jimmy the Cigar to Warsaw to buy up all the Cuban cigars and Beluga caviar in the duty-free shop to give to Freud. His theory about Freud's gambling was that he had a deep fear of being poor: "It was as if by gambling he could sort of play with his biggest fear."
But the fear, and the gambling, finished in the 1990s when William Acquavella became his dealer and made him so rich there was no thrill in gambling any more. His previous dealer, James Kirkman, gave up when Freud started painting endless huge nudes of the performance artist Leigh Bowery that he thought were unsellable. But Acquavella took them to America and persuaded the Metropolitan Museum to hold a big Freud exhibition. After that, international collectors were queuing up to buy - Roman Abramovich paid £17.2m in 2008 for his Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. But Acquavella took a big risk. At the start of their relationship, Freud asked him to settle a gambling debt and Acquavella took the bookie out to lunch and asked how much Freud owed, thinking it might be as much as £100,000. The answer was £2.7m. He paid.
Breakfast with Lucian is not a complete biography but it will certainly make future biographers' tasks much easier. Martin Gayford's Man with a Blue Scarf (2010) - about posing for Freud - is better on the painting process, but Greig has penetrated deep into the labyrinth of Freud's private life. The result is a gripping page-turner about an endlessly fascinating and extraordinary man.