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“Truth heads into naked people bodies bodies whole complete living naked women avoid facial expression make bodies expressive of feeling,” scribbled painter Lucian Freud in one of the sketchbooks now on display at London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG). Such stream-of-consciousness notes, which evoke the thinking behind his thickly impastoed nudes, are shown alongside childhood drawings, letters, sketches, and a newly discovered self-portrait.
The previously unseen works are part of a massive archive donated to the NPG after it was accepted by the British government in place of a £2.9m (~$4,120,320) inheritance tax. The collection includes 47 sketchbooks dating from the 1940s to the 1990s. They include more than 800 drawings, as well as random musings and jotted telephone numbers. The archive also features 162 drawings that Freud made as a child before his family fled from Nazi Germany to London in 1933. Done in pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, and pen and ink, these boyhood works were impeccably preserved in envelopes by the artist’s mother, Lucie. The dark corporeality of his oil portraiture doesn’t show up in these early drawings, but a few landscapes in vivid colored pencil, feature birds and trees, which would become recurring motifs in his adult work.
The self-portrait fragment, on display for the first time, is a rare example of an unfinished painting by Freud, who died in 2011. In the portrait, only the head is near completion, floating amid a smeared white canvas. Freud appears to peer through a hole ripped in a wall. Because its composition closely resembles “Reflection (Self-Portrait)“ (1985), it’s believed to date from the mid-1980s.
The selected works on display also include a sketch for the jacket of Freud’s daughter Esther’s 1992 novel Hideous Kinky, plus several drawings of his famous sitters, such as Lord Goodman. A book, Lucian Freud’s Sketchbooks, has been published by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany the exhibition.
Lucian Freud Unseen continues at the National Portrait Gallery (St. Martin’s Pl, London) through September 6.