Naked Portrait: A Memoir of Lucian Freud by Rose Boyt - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Model Daughter

Naked Portrait: A Memoir of Lucian Freud


Picador 416pp £22

Augustus John, walking down the King’s Road in Chelsea, patted the head of any child he passed in case it was one of his own. Something you learn on the side as an art historian is that intense creativity in a male artist often coincides with promiscuity. ‘I’ve got four more children,’ Lucian Freud said to his dealer James Kirkman one day, keeping him up to date on the family situation. He remained throughout his life a determined loner, fiercely guarding his solitary lifestyle. Most of his fourteen acknowledged children, who include Rose Boyt, saw him only sporadically, as and when it suited him. It wasn’t just that he feared domesticity, or ‘the pram in the hall’, as Cyril Connolly characterised family demands. To achieve grandeur and pathos in his art, he needed to protect the private world in which he lived and worked.

Among artists, such sentiments are widely shared. Professor Henry Tonks, the famous surgeon turned drawing master at the Slade School of Fine Art, told one of his star pupils, Mary Potter, ‘you must not marry’, and she held out for a while. But arriving at the right work–life balance is never easy. Lucian Freud, while a tutor at the Slade, found both a model and a girlfriend in Celia Paul. There is no doubt that each was smitten with the other, yet Freud tightly controlled their early meetings, Celia later describing the distress this caused in her autobiography, Self-Portrait. Further unhappiness arose from the painting, for which she posed naked. To her, the handling of her nakedness seemed ‘pitiless’.

To be naked is to be vulnerable. Freud played on this fact. He required a sense of familiarity with the sitter and avoided professional models. At a certain stage in his career, he began using his family as models. The long sittings that ensued broke down barriers. ‘It’s nice when

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