Kate'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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Dec 27, 2010

really liked it
Read from December 27, 2010 to January 12, 2011

Lucian Freud is more popular than Oprah around our house, so it should have been no surprise that TWO copies of this book appeared under the tree on Christmas Eve. Since Zach opened his copy from Dad before he opened his copy from me, I handily snatched my gift back before boarding the plane home to D.C.

The insights and personality in this book are great. (And for the grandson of Sigmund, a man who dances till dawn with Kate Moss, paints the Queen, and hasn't talked to his brother since their falling out at age 12 -- it damn well should be.) It was both chatty and philosophical -- like a cool survey of the Philosophy of Human Nature. Basically, art critic Martin Gayford sat for a portrait with Lucian Freud over hundreds of hours and lived to tell about it. I loved the book's generous color pictures and all they taught me about art appreciation. But what I REALLY loved was having strangers on the plane and subway glance over my shoulder to see Freud's naked sprawling nudes. Posing with things like fried eggs... and cherries... and dogs.

This book presented all kinds of interesting ideas about art and identity that will forever change the way I think about portraiture. Highlights include:

1) One philosopher argued that there is really no such thing as a persisting individual identity. All that truly exists in our brains is connectedness -- memories, character traits, associations, etc.

2) LF gets excited about the creative process, but not necessarily the product. Ergo, "So, for example, I didn't feel downcast at all when the director of the Tate rang me up to say that my portrait of Francis Bacon had been stolen. In general, I don't like to see my work after I have finished it, although sometimes I go to the houses of people who own my pictures, and I can't blame them for hanging them on the wall."

3) LF admires some photographers, but generally thinks the medium has little in it to help him as a painter. Photography, he says, provides a great deal of information about the fall of the light, but not about anything else. (Think about it. This is crazy.)

4) [On LF's creepy portrait of suicidal artist John Minton:] This was a case where a painter who spent months or years observing his subject quite naturally records vastly more information than a camera lens can see. It is thus a matter of accumulated experience, or memory, rather than technical perfection.

5) LF: "I always thought that an artist's was the hardest life of all. Its rigour - not always apparent to an outside observer - is that an artist has to navigate forward into the unknown guided only by an internal sense of direction, keep up a set of standards which are imposed entirely from within, meanwhile maintaining faith that the task he has set himself to is worth struggling constantly to achieve. This is all contrary to the notion of bohemian disorder."

6) In the battle of best of the 20th century between Matisse and Picasso, LF thinks Matisse was the greater by far -- because Matisse was essentially concerned with the life of forms, which art is really about. Picasso on the other hand, was out just to "amaze, surprise, astonish."

7) LF is the kind of guy who goes through something scary, but only remembers it as exciting. Like once when he fell through the ice of a lake. Or in his early career where he carried on painting despite the fact that his work was thoroughly out of fashion in the era of pop and mod, and he became extremely poor.

Some have said The Man in the Blue Scarf is very sensual or jovial. But in my view, Lucian Freud nailed Martin Gayford for his true art critic self: a lone wolfish figure, with the glimpse of a gold dollar sign in his left eye.

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