Lucian Freud 1922-2011

Provenance

Private Collection, a gift from the artist
Private Collection

Literature

Lucian Freud Archive, Works on Paper 1980–1983, http://lucianfreud.com/works-on-paper-1980---1983.html, accessed 17/6/2019
This pastel is a portrait of Freud’s close friend and erstwhile lover Susanna (‘Susie’) Chancellor. Freud had a lifelong intimacy with animals and he developed a strong fondness for Chancellor’s pet whippets. (Freud himself later owned whippets and his first, Pluto, was a gift from Chancellor.) He painted her with her dog in Double Portrait (1985–86, Private Collection), and she sat for him on many other occasions when her busy travel schedule allowed time for it. She is portrayed in several of Freud’s etchings of the nineteen-nineties, as in Susanna (1996), for example, as well as a number of smaller profile portraits in oils. Freud often preferred to make his sitters anonymous and this work has always been identified as Head of a Woman. He enjoyed the privacy of this arrangement since it allowed him to separate his often tangled personal life from the clarity and practicalities of his work.

Head of a Woman is a rare example of Lucian Freud’s use of pastel. David Dawson has said that Freud made no more than four pastels, including Head of a Woman. Freud made experimental forays into the use of pastel, watercolour and gouache in the nineteen-eighties, treating his work in these media as adjuncts to his practice in oil painting rather than as mere preparatory studies. Head of a Woman is the first of his pastels.

Freud’s other works in pastel compare closely with this work. He made another pastel portrait of Chancellor in 1988 (Private Collection) and the pastel portrait of Lord Goodman (1986–7, Private Collection) also made use of the same ochre ground. In both these works and Head of a Woman, Freud created that radiant colouring which is characteristic of work made by the most accomplished practitioners in pastel. The comparison with Edgar Degas is most apparent, and Freud used evenly-spaced hatching at the surface of the paper in a manner closely comparable to that of Degas. In both the ochre background and the sitter’s hair and jumper in Head of a Woman, the hatching is spaced to allow the similar application of closely comparable hues of pastel. The result is a sonorous wash of colour.

In addition to the use of hatching, Freud took a nuanced approach to tonal modelling in details of the sitter’s face. The face is constructed with careful, smoothly consecutive areas of tone. In line with the etchings that he started to produce at the time he made this pastel, Chancellor’s face is marked by mild convulsions - in the mouth, cheek bones and nose especially. It was Freud’s habit to develop a picture by isolating and particularising individual features, bringing sections to completion sequentially instead of building the work ‘all over’ in layers – a practice he learned from Cedric Morris in the nineteen-forties. This sometimes caused a face to seem unexpected or idiosyncratic. In Head of a Woman, the double curve of the chin and the ambiguous space around the nose play a dominant role in the face. The effect is suggestive of careful observation, and the way that the artist’s unassuming stare carefully registered and enunciated these aspects of his sitter’s appearance.

Catherine Lampert has confirmed that this work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of Freud’s drawings.