printed by Terry Wilson at Palm Tree Studios, London; impressed with the printer's stamp; published by James Kirkman and Anthony d'Offay to accompany special copies of Lucian Freud by Lawrence Gowing, published by Thames & Hudson
17.8 x 15.2 cm (plate size)
Private Collection, UK
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, Lucian Freud, Etchings 1946-2004, 2 April - 13 June 2004, cat no.14, illus b/w fig.6 p13, another edition, touring to:
Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 25 June - 25 September 2004
Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum, 15 October - 23 December 2004
Birmingham, Waterhall Gallery of Modern Art, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 29 January - 2 May 2005
London, Marlborough Graphics, Summer 2005
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Lucian Freud, Etchings from the Paine Webber Art Collection, January 23-March 21, 1999, cat no.6, illus p19, another edition, touring to;
San Diego, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 10 April- 23 May 1999
Seattle, The Seattle Art Museum, 10 June - 15 August 1999
Houston, The Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, 21 January- 19 March 2000
London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, 10 June - 22 September 2002, cat no.96, illus b/w unpaginated, another edition, touring to:
Barcelona, Fundacio La Caixa, 22 October 2002 - 12 January 2003
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 9 February - 25 May 2003
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Lucian Freud: The Painter's Etchings, 16 December 2007- 10 March 2008, pl 22, illus p53, another edition
Nicholas Penny and Robert Flynn Johnson, Lucian Freud Works on Paper, Southbank Centre, 1988, cat no.73 illus b/w
Craig Hartley, The Etchings of Lucian Freud: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1946-1995, Marlborough Graphics, London and New York, 1995, cat no.20
Bruce Bernard and Derek Birdsall, Lucian Freud, Random House, New York, 1996, cat no.218, illus colour
William Feaver, Lucian Freud, Rizzoli, New York, cat no.182, illus colour
Starr Figura, The Painter's Etchings, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, plate 22
DescriptionFreud’s portraits of his mother, which began in 1972 and continued almost uninterruptedly until his final drawing of her from her deathbed in 1989, have been described by Catherine Lampert as, ‘…a remarkable elegy of ageing and depression.’ (Lucian Freud Obituary, The Guardian, Friday 22 July 2011)
Freud had started painting his mother two years after the death of his father and her state of depression, which prompted an extreme passivity in her, made her the ideal sitter. As he explained,
‘If my father hadn’t died I’d never have painted her. I started working from her because she lost interest in me; I couldn’t have, if she had been interested in me….She barely noticed, but I had to overcome a lifetime of avoiding her. From very early on she treated me, in a way, as an only child. I resented her interest; I felt it was threatening. She was so intuitive. And she liked forgiving me; she forgave me for things I never even did.’ (The artist quoted in William Feaver, ‘Lucian Freud: Life in Art’ Lucian Freud exh.cat. Tate Britain, 2002, p.31)
As a collection, Freud’s portraits of Lucie Freud present an intimate and intense exploration of the relationship between both mother and son and sitter and artist. As Michael Glover explains,
‘This is the face that has been too much with him all his life. He is of it. In part, he is staring back at himself, what he was, is, and shall be. It is a palimpsest of a face that is so well known to him. All those earlier versions of this same face exist somewhere just beneath its surface. It is also a kind of monument, a testament, a grave summation of everything that has been. And yet it is no longer quite that face either. It has fallen away. It is also that face's terrifying caricature, reduced to a kind of cruel game of grotesquery.’ (Michael Glover, Great Works: The Painter's Mother II, 1972 (229mm x 210mm), Lucian Freud, 17 February 2012)
Freud’s earliest paintings of his mother are often produced on small canvases, their emotion and power concentrated by the scaled-down composition. In these, his mother’s gaze is often averted away from the artist and the viewer, the grief of her circumstance echoed through the detachment felt in her stance. In the present work however, which was produced exactly ten years after Freud’s first depiction of his mother, Lucie is now staring directly towards us with a gaze, which is quietly defiant in the face of such close scrutiny.
The Painter’s Mother is one of only three etchings which Freud produced of his mother during the seventeen years that she sat for him. Freud had made his first four etchings between 1946 and 1948, but, after this initial interest, he abandoned the medium for a period of thirty-four years, focusing his attention almost exclusively on painting. His return to etching was prompted by the publication of Lawrence Gowing’s monograph on the artist in 1982, of which 100 deluxe additions were printed. To accompany these books, Freud produced fifteen etchings, from which he selected four, each of which were printed in an edition of twenty-five. The Painter’s Mother was one of the four, alongside, A Couple, Head of a Woman and Bella, all 1982.
Of the three etchings of his mother, the present work has been described by Starr Figura as achieving,
‘..an unlikely monumentality, through the frontal position of the face and direct eye contact as well as the slightly closer cropping.’ (Starr Figura, ‘Lucian Freud, The Painter’s Etchings exh. cat. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, p.19).
Here, Freud’s scrutiny of his mother’s face appears to be accepted or even possibly challenged by her. In 1982, Lucie would have been eighty-six years old and her elderly face; the dark lines around her eyes and forehead and slack skin which gathers around the mouth and neck are depicted with a harsh clarity, enhanced by the definitive nature of the etched line.
Lawrence Gowing has described how, when he was being drawn for an etching, he had the impression of Freud working with a process similar to echo- sounding. Freud gathers information from every possible vantage point and no single detail is missed in this intense appraisal of his subject. Eventually, elements that are not relevant to the final image are removed but such a process results in works which penetrate further than the surface idea of a human face. As Bruce Bernard has commented on this work, ‘Lucie Freud seems to ask questions that she never did in paint.’ (Bruce Bernard and Daniel Birdsall, Lucian Freud, Random House, London, 1996, p.22