“He loved to watch me ironing a shirt or washing the floor of the studio in my bare feet. How did I feel about sitting? Angry and exhilarated, outraged by the terms and conditions, honoured to have been chosen. Just to spend time with him was inspirational. I loved him.” Rose Boyt
A major painting by Lucian Freud, Rose, 1977-78, and unseen photographs of the artist taken during the portrait’s creation, are the subject of the exhibition at Ordovas.
In the Studio conjures up the atmosphere of Lucian Freud’s Holland Park studio in the late 1970s, through photographs taken by the artist’s daughter, the author Rose Boyt. Rose’s pictures are shown alongside the portrait that she was sitting for, forty years ago. On public display for the first time, the photographs bring Freud’s studio to life and place the portrait of his daughter in the context of its creation.
At the beginning of 1977, Lucian Freud moved from a one-room flat in Paddington into a much larger painting studio. The light and spacious top floor in Holland Park allowed for Freud’s paintings to become more ambitious and monumental in size. During this period the artist’s mother was sitting in the mornings and Two Plants, now in the Tate’s permanent collection, was also being painted. By contrast, the night paintings of the late 1970s were dominated by two primary sitters – Rose and Raymond Jones.
Freud’s practice was to work on several paintings at the same time, which gave the sitters a break and also meant that if one of the paintings was not going well, or he felt stuck, there was another to work on. In the completed painting, Rose lies nude with one hand on the sofa, softly touching her shoulder and the other resting on her forehead, fingers closed and shielding her eyes. Her pose is bold and uninhibited. Freud, in turn, has moulded her form in thick impasto layers of fleshy pinks and uses white sparingly, on the tip of her knee and nose and the curve of her wrist. Rose’s body is alive – her senses appear heightened, and the physical construction of the human body accentuated.
Rose’s photographs offer insight into Freud’s working practice and they form the first documentation of his new Holland Park studio. They came about when Rose was asked to take a portrait of her father for the catalogue of a forthcoming exhibition at his then gallery. Rose, only nineteen years old at the time, had just one roll of film, which she filled with these informal pictures of her father surrounded by his paints, rags and clothes. Entering the studio through her camera lens, the viewer is given permission to peek into the myriad of details of daily and nightly life in Freud’s studio including the fawn-coloured Chesterfield sofa that appears in so many of the artist’s most celebrated portraits and the wall that he used to clean his brushes, covered in big daubs of paint.
Rose is present both behind and in front of the camera. The portrait that her father is in the process of painting is imposing and bold against the mostly bare backdrop of the studio walls. Freud and Raymond, who is fully nude, play with Raymond’s pet rat and move freely around the painting, which is imbued with psychological depth and emotional intensity. The photographs capture an artist in the process of creation and show that Freud’s paintings in progress were not hidden from his sitters but rather became part of the fibre of the studio that everyone interacted with. As Rose recalls, “It was clear to me after maybe a year of sittings I was too big to fit on the canvas—my leg was going to be chopped off above the ankle…so I suggested bandaging it with one of the unused paint rags that were always to hand in the studio, old hotel sheets that came from Ratzker’s, a rag-yard in Brick Lane.”
Rose chose not to photograph her father in the act of painting, but rather to capture him simply living and existing in his space. In catching the intimate interactions between Freud and Raymond, Rose’s photographs are small exposures into this otherwise secret world. Freud, Raymond, Rose (both behind the camera and in her portrait), the familiar sofa and the paint-crusted wall, all come together to make the studio a subject in and of itself.
In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Rose shares her experience of sitting and how she learnt to stick up for herself in small ways under her father’s scrutiny. Rose also describes life outside the studio walls – from learning to cook from the Elizabeth David book her father had given to her for her eighteenth birthday, to a marriage proposal from Andy Warhol.
“A few years ago over lunch Rose Boyt showed me the contact sheets of the photographs she took while sitting for her portrait forty years ago,” says Pilar Ordovas. “You can imagine my excitement at seeing these photographs, that give us a glimpse of life behind the scenes in Freud’s Holland Park studio. It is such a privilege for us to now be able to show these photographs for the first time.”Courtesy of Ordovas