Unpublished etchings that Lucian Freud rejected or reworked are to be published for the first time in a definitive study that will document every etching he ever created.
The etchings offer new insight into one of the most revered artists of the 20th century, revealing his thought process and attention to detail.
A charming Christmas card depicting three boats that Freud is said to have made as a schoolboy and a striking study of a woman’s head that he has decided not to publish are among the pieces that will feature in the study. Other works by Lucian Freud: Catalog Raisonné des Estampes, published by Modern Art Press on May 24, show how Freud, who died in 2011, reworked compositions, erasing and revising areas he disliked.
Its author, Toby Treves, former Curator of Tate’s 20th Century British Art Collections, said: ‘There are some really beautiful ones where you wonder why he didn’t publish them because they are awesome.”
He chose, for example, a “really beautiful” head study, which may have been inspired by Susanna Chancellor, one of Freud’s former lovers: “It’s particularly beautiful.”
An unpublished first state of Freud’s engraving of his whippet, Pluto, reveals that it originally featured Chancellor’s full body. He was unhappy with the composition and had the plate cut off, leaving only Pluto sleeping against part of his body.
Unpublished states and trial proofs that preceded the published edition of Reclining Figure, a depiction by performance artist Leigh Bowery, reveal that Freud had struggled with shortening the head, erasing and redrawing it as well as part of the shoulder twice until he reached the final. State.
Many of these images were among more than 140 test prints accumulated by printmaker Marc Balakjian, who died in 2017 after working closely with Freud for many years. In 2019, in lieu of inheritance tax, the collection went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which plans to put some on display next year.
Treves is also co-author, with Catherine Lampert, of Lucian Freud: Catalog Raisonné des Peintures, which will be published next year.
He paid tribute to Balakjian’s exceptional knowledge of inks and his sensitive eye for variations in tone: “He was a brilliant master engraver and Lucian learned a lot from him. Much of what Lucian was able to do with later prints was because Marc opened up so many other possibilities for him with his technical genius. Marc printed maybe eight or 10 prints, each with a different inking. So Freud would make his choice, leaving nine, say, that weren’t to be published…Mark kept them for reference and when he died they were all there.
The catalog raisonné will include an essay Balakjian was commissioned to write about his collaboration. He described challenges, including working on Freud’s self-portrait prints: “The first was a small plate, which he didn’t like. He scratched squiggle lines across the face to undo the plaque before it was etched.
Treves said: “One of the really remarkable things is the care that Lucian took care of. With some, he just put a handful of lines on a plate that may have tens of thousands of lines on it. And yet his eye is so sharp that he sees a small weakness in it. And he’s right. You see the different states and you can see why he did it.