He had an insatiable appetite for lovers, but cast them aside when he tired of them… So why is a new biography reluctant to explore the painter Lucian Freud’s priapic excesses?
- The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame, 1968-2011, is by William Feaver and costs £35
- This second volume covers the workaholic half of Freud’s life
- But there is very little detail about his sexual relationships
- Feaver writes that, ‘I wasn’t really interested in his private life’
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame, 1968-2011
by William Feaver (Bloomsbury £35, 592pp)
Hello, Villiam, how goes it?’ That was Lucian Freud, who never quite lost his German accent, calling William Feaver for the daily late-night chats over 35 years on which Feaver’s two-volume, life of the artist is based.
This second volume covers the workaholic half of Freud’s life, during which the price for one of his paintings rose meteorically from a typical £5,000 to the £17.2 million paid in 2008 by Roman Abramovich for Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, one of Freud’s many nudes whose flesh is as sprawling and colourful as this vast, swollen tome.
We left Freud at the end of Volume I in a state of chaotic, self-destructive addiction to gambling on horses, painting his way out of chronic debt.
The second volume of William Feaver’s biography of Lucian Freud covers the workaholic half of Freud’s life, during which the price for one of his paintings rose meteorically
That addiction seemed to wane with his increasing success and wealth. Gambling lost its frisson when he was no longer in danger of tumbling headlong into penury.
But he still liked to go around with £16,000 in cash stuffed into his pocket in case the whim took him to put a bet on a horse at 8 to 1, just for the adrenaline rush.
Volume II opens with the 46-year-old Freud shinning up a drainpipe in Notting Hill, West London, to pursue the 24-year-old Jacquetta Eliot who was (she thought) happily married to an earl-to-be.
In mid-life, Freud still relished focusing on his prey.
Jacquetta summed up his craving for the unattainable by describing his reaction on finding a kebab shop closed: ‘Damn, I want it even more.’
Jacquetta fought off his advances for two years but then — ‘a dreadful realisation’ — knew she was hooked.
‘He was funny and clever, ardent, urgent and fantastically intimate. He electrified my senses.’ It was ‘a dreadful drug and I couldn’t get off it.’
Freud pursued the 24-year-old Jacquetta Eliot who was (she thought) happily married to an earl-to-be. Jacquetta fought off his advances for two years but then — ‘a dreadful realisation’ — knew she was hooked
She gave him a baby, Freddy, for his birthday, whom her husband agreed to bring up as his own.
But Jacquetta’s relationship with Freud soon descended into jealous, window-smashing rows as he moved on to his next conquest.
She bit him through his shoulder, breaking her tooth, and scratched the word ‘fart’ on his Bentley.
Was Feaver too close a friend of Freud’s to write a properly dispassionate account of the man? I fear he was.
Freud himself was a fanatical guarder of his private life.
But Feaver may have been too close to Freud to write a properly dispassionate account
Once, he burst into Wilton’s restaurant and wrestled Nigel Dempster to the ground for naming Jacquetta in Private Eye magazine as his sitter.
Feaver, who was the curator of Freud’s retrospective exhibitions (about which we hear too many tedious details), is also the curator of the artist’s privacy.
During their thousands of hours of telephone chats, he seems to have become increasingly tactful, not probing Freud about his later love affairs, such as the one with Susanna Chancellor, wife of journalist Alexander.
What exactly was going on there, and what did Alexander make of it?
Mentioned only in passing, it seems to have been a cosy, long-running affair broken off each summer when Susanna went to Tuscany for four months, during which he rang her four times a day and she was jealous that Lucian was ‘let off the lead’.
She wanted him to be monogamous.
As one friend of hers remarked on hearing that wish: ‘Well, tell a dog to be vegan.’
Nor is there any real probing into his later affair with the 27-year-old journalist Emily Bearn that began when Freud was 79: Emily later left him for none other than Alexander Chancellor, by whom she had a baby.
‘I wasn’t really interested in his private life,’ Feaver writes.
Well, we are. Susanna is one of the rolling gallery of women who crop up in this book, ranging from ‘Big Sue’ the benefits supervisor, to the Queen whom he painted in 2000 (The British Art Journal said the portrait ‘makes her look like one of her corgis who has suffered a stroke’).
To the Queen, he flatteringly remarked: ‘If you were a professional model you’d be in demand.’
Freud craved women as sitters but, as Feaver writes, ‘To sit was to serve, often in more than one capacity.’
Freud could still exert a magnetic hold over art students much younger than his daughters, who became his models and muses.
Having read Celia Paul’s raw, emotional memoir of last year, Self-Portrait, about her passionate affair with him, I was surprised by just how minor a role she plays in this book: just one of many needy, tearful women whom Freud eventually had to shake off.
In his mid-80s he was still eyeing up the clientele of the Wolseley in his frantic search for new recruits.
Kate Moss became a close friend of Freud’s, whose naked portrait by him fetched £3.5 million at auction
It was not always beautiful women who were best for portraits. ‘The reason I always go for what people call ‘dowdy women’,’ he said, ‘is that they have generous faces.’
Madonna was desperate to be painted, but he found that the more desperate someone was, the less suitable they were as a sitter.
One of his models, a nurse, cursed God for her fat ankles. ‘I thank God for them,’ Freud said.
He was the master celebrator of fat ankles — although he was also a sucker for the thin ankles of Kate Moss, who became a close friend rather than lover, and whose naked portrait by him fetched £3.5 million at auction.
He even did a tattoo of a brace of swallows set like inverted commas at the base of her spine.
The chief attribute he demanded of a sitter was punctuality.
Freud was a strangely cold man. He never went to funerals or memorial services. Pictured: Him with fellow artist Francis Bacon in the 1960s
When new mother Jerry Hall kept being late or not turning up to sittings, he scratched her out and replaced her with his naked male assistant David, who was depicted in all his hairiness, holding her baby.
Freud’s adult daughters and sons were reliable sitters, as they craved his undivided attention and this was a way to get six or seven hours of it, five days a week, until the painting was finished and they were suddenly dispensable again.
While he was painting his daughter Rose (naked), she longed to shout out, ‘Where were you when I needed you, you b******?’
The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame, 1968-2011, by William Feaver
By his own admission, Freud was ‘one of the great absentee fathers of the age’.
His mother, also, was a good sitter, as she was losing her marbles and just sat there vacantly for him in his Kensington studio, for four hours a day for the last 15 years of her life.
On the day she died, he went into the hospital to draw her face freshly dead — one of the many haunting images reproduced in this richly art-centred book.
He was a strangely cold man.
He never went to funerals or memorial services — not even his mother’s (‘There were too many people I didn’t want to see’).
There’s no explanation of why he was not on speaking terms with his brothers Stephen and Clement.
When Clement died, he merely remarked, ‘We never got on. He’s dead now. Always was, actually.’
All his emotion, and perhaps all his existential despair, went into his paintings. When it came to his work, writes Feaver, he was ‘a man possessed’.
‘What do I ask of a painting?’ Freud said. ‘I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.’
This book, though too full of meandering conversations that could have done with trimming, does justice to Freud’s pitiless genius as an artist.