‘My work is purely autobiographical. It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from the people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know. I use the people to invent my pictures with, and I can work more freely when they are there.’
(Lucian Freud quoted in John Russell, Lucian Freud, London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1974, p13)
Head of Ib, 1988 depicts Isobel Boyt one of Freud’s fourteen children and, one of five that he fathered with Suzy Boyt, a former student of Freud’s at the Slade art school in London and the subject of his painting Woman Smiling, 1958-59. As the artist stated above, his works present a visual diary of his life and surroundings but more significantly, collectively they are also the articulation of the personal relationships that he formed throughout it. The very intense process of depicting the human body and the intimacy between two people that this process necessitates was indeed often the means through which many of Freud’s relationships would develop, both on his and his sitter’s part. As the artist himself has recognized during this process, ‘You're living and your relationships grow and mature or decay.’ (Lucian Freud quoted in William Feaver, Lucian Freud: Life into Art, pp. 12-50, Lucian Freud exh. cat., London, 2002, p43)
Isobel Boyt has spoken about the very intense and personal experience of sitting for her father candidly, stating, 'Each time I did a picture with him I swore I'd never do it again, but I then do because it is a way of having a relationship with my dad as well as there is a part of me that if he wants to paint me I am quite flattered… I see each picture as representing a period in my life it is more than a snap shot, 6 months or something is substantial enough period to have had to see how you felt that time, your state of mind, your concerns and what you were going through encapsulated.' (Isobel Boyt quoted in Jake Auerbach and William Feaver, Sitting for Freud, BBC 2004)
Isobel or ‘Ib’, like several of Freud’s children, has featured often in Freud’s work. In 1969 the artist completed the oil painting, Large Interior, Paddington, (Fig.1) in which Isobel is depicted tenderly as a young child, lying on the floor of Freud’s studio in Paddington, her father’s jacket hung on the wall behind her and the leaves of the plant beside her illuminated by the window behind them. Later, in 1992 he created, Ib and her Husband (Fig.2) which again, depicts Ib lying down this time pregnant and asleep, cocooned by her husband Pat Costelloe who lies behind her with his arm placed over her stomach protectively. The intimacy of this private moment is articulated tenderly yet without sentimentality and herein lies the power of Freud’s work which tirelessly confronts the viewer with a frank interpretation of those that sit before him. As Robert Flyn Johnson has recognized,
‘More than any other twentieth century artist, Lucian Freud makes us acutely aware of existing as human beings; of our sexuality, of being fat or thin, of getting old, of being mortal.’ (Robert Flynn Johnson, ‘The Later Works, 1961-1987’, Lucian Freud: Works on Paper, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1988, p15)
In between these larger oil paintings, Freud also created several smaller, close-up portraits of Ib in various mediums including oil paints, etchings, charcoal, pastel and pencil. (Fig. 3,4) Portraiture has always occupied an important position in Freud’s work and especially so in the prints and drawings he produced from 1970 onwards. Often in these works, as is the case with the present work, Freud depicts his sitter alone, focusing on her head at close-range and describing just the top of her shoulders. More often than not in these smaller portraits, as with Head of Ib, the sitter’s face is turned away from the viewer, their eye downcast as if in calm contemplation. This averted gaze also implies a certain level of submission to the artist’s gaze and encourages a voyeuristic approach on the part of the viewer as we are invited to study Ib’s in great depth, absorbing the lines and shadows used to describe not only the physiognomy of the face itself but the character behind it. In Head of Ib, 1988 soft pencil strokes are used to create subtle areas of light and dark. Unlike in Freud’s etchings, which by nature of their process are more linear and severe in form, this drawing articulates a tenderness as Freud builds form through a series of gentle and intuitive marks.