A visual chronicle of Lucian Freud's relationship with Caroline Blackwood (on display at Ordovas) causes Michael Ajerman to recall the ever-true words – it sucks when it's over.
|Girl In Bed (1952)|
It has been a little more than four years to the day since the passing of Lucian Freud. Articles continue to gossip (how many kids?!) and curators squint and crunch. Refreshingly, Ordovas provides an antidote and presents the highly focused show, Girl. Visually chronicling the relationship between Freud and his second wife, Caroline Blackwood. As viewers we plunge into their lives and world within the four paintings on display.
To blast through the biographical flutter, Freud’s relationship to Kitty Epstein (daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein) began to unravel in 1949. He met Caroline Blackwood at a posh masquerade ball hosted by Ian Fleming’s soon to be wife Lady Rothermere that same year. An interaction began that evening, and flourished. In 1952, Caroline; 21, British, aristocratic, blonde, proper and wide-eyed marries Lucian; 29, European of Viennese cultural heritage celebrity, talented, dark, and foreign accented.
Even in his twenties, the duration of how long a portrait would take Freud was legendary. Eight paintings were made of Caroline in total between 1950 and 1956. She passed these hours as her husband’s sitter, sometimes reading, sometimes not, as he looked closer and closer.
My first thought within the exhibition is of absence. Where is Hotel Bedroom? A notorious painting from 1954 showing Caroline in bed, hair a mess, balmy, sweaty, with Lucian by the window standing in shadow and gazing. It’s an intense painting filled with tragedy, and at first it seems a further tragedy that it is not here.
|Girl Reading (1952)|
Standing in the gallery it began to dawn on me that the absence of this emotional juggernaut was a blessing. Letting works like Girl in Bed and Girl by the Sea that are softer in presence go from their mild acoustic nature to bloom symphonically for the viewer.
Girl in Bed, painted in Paris in 1952, shows more heart then any other Freud portrait of a woman in his career, ever. While Girl Reading, from the same year, attempts form and weight through paint, its strength is a dominant sense of drawing. The use of line seems to slice, render and caress. The pigment accent and touch seems to be more like a delicate pastel – it is truly a being of light, though contrarily it is made of line and tone, not pure color.
You can count the hairs of Caroline’s manicured eye brows along with her venus fly trap-like eye lashes. Detailed focal points bloom outwards. Girl in Bed records the vibrant sun blasting through the Parisian windows in the morning (her hair looks matted from sleep) as Lucian visually travels with clear vision, hunger and love. Across the landscape of her head, the pools of her irises, flashes of flesh, surfing on the curves of her uneven fingernails. All silhouetted by a white duvet. As viewers we are given access to this privacy.
That all mutates in Girl by the Sea. Painted in 1956 while vacationing in Malaga, husband and wife trying to sort themselves out, with ocean waves providing little respiration. Elegant skin shows wear and tear as Caroline’s nose, shoulders and back are sunburnt. Making a holiday in the sun, rendered in mint-ice-cream green and sweet-shop pink, seem queasy.
Tension has always been a invigorating factor in Freud’s work, but here it seems unbearable, leading to a rare uneven focus and an ill handling of a form. Her face has the puffiness of quarrels, rows and tears. Hair kinetic in the wind, the tassels twisting and turning, animated like octopus tentacles. The soft focus of the sea, the manically detailed strands of hair and the oddly rendered flesh all seem to contradict each other. Everything is connecting in this piece with the visual grace of an automobile hitting a brick wall.
|Girl By The Sea (1956)|
Posed in profile, she looks down, possibly reading again. Her presence, which seems so complete in other works, here is only partial. A marriage in unrepairable pieces, Caroline leaves Malaga without Lucian. Is Girl by the Sea a finished work? It doesn’t matter. Some works have more a sense of stopping than a notion of completion.
Paintings of one’s love stand still in their own time. Emotions in the future may teeter totter, bloom or die, but the work stays in its position. Always of its moment. It’s the people that change. The relationship, like a pulsating thing, looks back on the art, just as we do here. The caresses of Caroline’s mane in Girl by the Sea, with their focused touch and rendering prove all of this.
In respect to Freud, a lover of song and lyric, I end with these lines:
It sucks when it’s over
And you can’t get it back
Why do we all want to
Like a pack of necrophiliacs - Vic Chesnutt, Over
|Hotel Bedroom (1954)|
Girl is on display at Ordovas (London, W1) from June 5th to August 1st 2015.