Tony's Reviews > Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud

Man with a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford
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's review
Dec 20, 10

bookshelves: art, top-10-2011
Read from December 13 to 19, 2010

The eyes appear first. Then the eyebrows. They tell us more than anything. The nose will grow organically. We may have to shrink the head a bit. Let's talk. Eat. And drink. Days. Hours. Minutes. Sometimes just staring. Not provocatively, as in a bar. But trying to see the layers, the dimensions. And transpose them. Months. A sitter and an artist.

Sitting is a pleasure, an ordeal, and also a worry.

This is a wonderful, gorgeous book. Gayford, an art critic, sits for a portrait by Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund and a vibrant octogenarian. Freud's paintings are here and beautifully reproduced. In particular, the self-portraits are revealing, perhaps the equal of (dare I say it) a certain Dutch master. There is also a friendship between sitter and painter, which allows Freud to expound on other artists, subjects and the artist's unique worldview.

But this is fundamentally a book about two things. First, it tells about the unique symbiosis between artist and subject. There is surprisingly much that the sitter does, or at least there's plenty of time for an observant soul to ponder. But this is also the story of a painting. I really felt a part of the creation. And it's a wonderful painting. A half-smile, unruly hair, searching eyes. As Gayford sees it:

It's me looking at him, looking at me.

And he's right.

A wonderful point the author makes is that all created art must necessarily have part of the artist (writer, painter) inside it. So, Gayford says, this book is a bit of a self-portrait. And he's right there too.

Here, you can learn about all the muscles in the human face and what they accomplish and whether Da Vinci or Van Gogh was the greater artist. And you will never see, in the index of any book, a cooler entry than this one:

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