Posts Tagged ‘Frank Auerbach’

Photography | Freud by Cecil Beaton & David Dawson

Friday, July 13th, 2012

An Artist’s Life: Photographs of Lucian Freud by Cecil Beaton and David Dawson
Sotheby’s London, UK
Selling Exhibition: until 11th August, 2012

It’s probably fair to say that David Dawson’s photographing daily life at Lucian Freud’s studio, and beyond, had its genesis in Bruce Bernard’s photographs of the great British painter. Freud (1922-2011) and Bernard (1928-2000) had been friends since their teens. Curator  and author of fine art and photography books, including his great Phaidon tome Century, Bernard (to whom, incidentally, I owe a debt with regard to my picture editing education – he was picture editor at The Sunday Times Magazine for the first couple of years I was there) sat – or more accurately, stood, in 1992 and sat in 1996 for Freud, having previously had his unusually large head immortalised by the artist in Head of Bruce Bernard, 1985. In the 1990s, Freud, famed for shunning the limelight, uncharacteristically, allowed Bernard, who had been taking photographic portraits of fellow Soho drinkers, artists and luminaries including Francis Bacon and Euan Uglow, to begin photographing him at work in his studio.

Having studied painting at the Royal College of Art – where he was a contemporary of Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman – Dawson (b.1960) became Freud’s studio assistant in 1991. It wasn’t until some years later that Dawson – Freud by now used to have a photographer in his studio – picked up his own camera and began to record the day-to-day comings and goings and the work processes happening in front of and around him. After Bruce Bernard’s death in 2000, with unprecedented and now, exclusive, access – Bernard, in any case, having only been a visitor – Dawson was able to capture intimate moments: Freud in deep concentration, Freud applying shaving cream to his face with one of his large brushes (which, although we used it across a double-page spread in Tatler – where I was creative director – I suspect was set up, possibly at the behest of my editor-in-chief, Geordie Greig, himself a regular visitor at Freud’s studio) and to produce images that allow us to see the development of some of Freud’s later paintings.

Freud at Work, Photographs by Bruce Bernard and David Dawson was shown at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert in 2006. Earlier this year, the same gallery showed Lucian Freud: Studio Life, Photographs by David Dawson. More recently Dawson’s image of Freud painting the Queen was selected for the Whitechapel’s exhibition of works from the Government Art Collection. A selection of Dawson’s pictures of Freud were also shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 2004. Twenty six of these, including those showing the artist painting Hockney and Queen Elizabeth II, and Frank Auerbach visiting the studio, were acquired for the gallery’s collection.

The unlikely juxtaposition of Dawson and Beaton’s photographs in this summer’s selling exhibition of limited edition prints at Sotheby’s, as much as it is revealing about Freud, provides an insight into the characters, aspirations and appetites of both photographers. Dawson comes across as a little shy and somewhat reticent, whereas, by all accounts, Beaton, who produced a prodigious number of self-portraits, was just the opposite.

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) has a staggering 1,050 portraits in the NPG collection. His career as a portrait photographer took off after meeting the Sitwells in 1926. He signed his first contract with Vogue in 1927 and was associated with the magazine throughout his life. Beaton had been in Hollywood in the 1930s, where he became obsessed with Garbo, whom he continued to photograph throughout her life. He photographed Katherine Hepburn and later Marylin Monroe, of whom he wrote: ‘She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on the sofa. She puts a flower stem in her mouth, puffing on a daisy as though it were a cigarette. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears.’ During WWII he worked for the Ministry of Information and afterwards took on the additional role of stage designer for film, ballet and opera. In 1965 he was awarded two oscars for his stage production of My Fair Lady. His work has appeared in countless exhibitions and books, the first of which, Beaton by James Danziger – another former Sunday Times Magazine picture editor, now running the eponymous Danziger Projects in New York – was published in 1977, the same year that Sotheby’s acquired the photographer’s estate.

Beaton’s photographs of Freud from the 1950s capture him alone, with friends, with family and with his second wife Caroline Blackwood at Coombe Priory, their Dorset retreat. Although Beaton claimed to be drawn to Freud, whom he described as ‘a true artist and a true Bohemian’ – in some of Beaton’s pictures his subject wears no tie, or if he does it’s ratty and his shirt appears somewhat creased – the painter is portrayed as a clean-shaven, well-quaffed, heroic and brooding figure with movie-star good looks. While Dawson’s photographs are not about Dawson – he often lurks in the background, content to simply tag along behind his elderly master – Beaton had other ideas. While some of his images affect reportage, each one of them is a carefully-controlled portrait. One of these in particular, makes Freud look particularly stiff and awkward as he struggles to look at the camera, in front of the lens of which, Beaton, in one of his surrealist moments, seems to have flung a cyclamen flower and a few leaves – almost definitely montaged in later – that in the final image float above the sitter’s head. At first sight, what appears to be Beaton’s least set up, least theatrical picture of Lucien Freud’s daughter, Annie, 3rd October, 195o, in which she sits on another animal’s back while stroking the nose of a zebra, comes as a refreshing surprise; then one realises that the photographer is playing his usual, for me disappointingly tiresome, games; the zebra is obviously stuffed. Not everyone is as lively as Monroe was but oh, if only Beaton could have allowed a little of the extemporaneous excitement he had captured in his shoot with her to seep into his photographing Freud – as Dawson did so successfully with Kate Moss in Having a cuddle with Kate, 2010… Mind you, some of Dawson’s pictures are more record shot than fine photography: Breakfast at Clarke’s with Stella McCartney, 2008, is just a snap, as is his picture of Bono and Freud breakfasting together. His Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach at the V&A, 2006, however, has the ease and spontaneity of a Lartigue.

Images from top
David Dawson, Having a cuddle with Kate, 2010
Cecil Beaton, Coombe Priory, Dorset, 1956

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Auction | Modern & Post-War British Art

Friday, October 28th, 2011


Modern & Post-War British Art

Sotheby’s, London. Evening Sale, 15th November, 2011

Exhausted. Broke. Britain, after Hitler’s war was a barren and desolate landscape. But while the rest of Europe rapidly recovered, rebuilding both their shattered cities and economies, Britain lagged behind, its population having to endure food rationing – that had begun in 1940 – until 1954. The country’s economy never really got going again until the latter half of the 1980s. It might be surprising and seem ironic then that a group of paintings, drawings and sculpture representative of the prodigious output by British artists from the post-war years, together with others from the 21-year inter-war period – itself dogged by unemployment and poverty, and hit hard by the 1929 Wall Street Crash – are expected to reach a combined total of £7.2 – 10.8 m ($11.9 – 17.3m) in this forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, London.

Born in 1878 – well before WWI during which he was a war artist – master-draughtsman, Augustus John’s, David at the Table portrays the somewhat idealised image of a haggard though handsome, wild-eyed young man in work clothes sat slumped at a plain table on which one senses there is no food and might not have been for some time. Generally considered to be the most famous British artist of his day, John himself was never short of money or commissions, however he cultivated a bohemian image inspired by his admiration for the lifestyle of gypsies. Perhaps the bluntness of Laurence Stephen Lowry’s painting, The Cripples (Political Argument) executed shortly after WWII comes closer to reality. Along with other Lowry’s it is also included in the sale.

Bridget Riley, born to middle-class London parents in 1931, would have been eight years old when war broke out in 1939. Raised in the relative safety of the west country, she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before coming up to London to study at Goldsmiths then at The Royal College of Art. Her signature, disorientating Op Art painting style matured at the beginning of the 60s with which it and she became synonymous. At a time when the younger generation, anxious to escape the dullness and squalor of the 1950s, living in the shadow of the Cold War and of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, these paintings were said to inspire audience participation. Becoming disillusioned when her style was exploited for commercial purposes, Riley abandoned it in favour of pursuing ideas concerned with colour, in so doing backing away from the limelight. She was fifty-one when she painted the strikingly linear Praise 1 at the dawn of the 80s.

The same age as Riley, Frank Auerbach, whose gaunt work, Head of Gerda Boehm, among others is also included in the sale, was born of Jewish parentage in Berlin. Sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism, his mother and father remained behind and perished in concentration camps. Young Frank was evacuated to Shropshire but ended up attending London’s St Martin’s School of Art and going on to the RCA, where he and Bridget Riley were contemporaries.

Painter, William Roberts, started out as a poster designer and studied at the Slade; leaving the school in 1913 he travelled in France and Italy and fought in the trenches during WWI, the sheer horror of the experience, as with many other artists who went to fight, significantly changing the direction of his work. Roberts was one of the signatories to the first issue of BLAST, the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. He developed an interest for representing and interpreting the predominantly working class elements of metropolitan London’s everyday life and events – visits to the cinema, the dancehall but treating them with dignity and humour. Roberts’ painting:s The Boxing Match, produced between 1919-25 and The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946, along with Bath Night, 1929, are all in this sale.In contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, created in 1971, only four years before the sculptor’s death and, although small in size – only 16.5 cm high, excluding black, polished stone base – is unashamedly extravagant and luxurious in use of materials.

Hepworth, from Wakefield in Yorkshire was born in 1903 to middle class parents and died in 1975; her adulthood spans much of the scope of this sale. Aged 17, not long after the Great War ended, she went to Leeds School of Art before being accepted at the RCA, soon becoming well-connected to the up-and-coming art cognescenti including sculptors Henry Moore and John Skeaping. Marrying the latter, the couple regularly exhibited together to great acclaim but drifted apart and separated in 1931. Soon after Hepworth met Ben Nicholson whom she was later to marry and to form a long-standing creative relationship with in which together they moved into abstraction. Both artists benefited enormously from forging links to the continental avant gardists – Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi – and from those artists who fled Europe and came to England prior to WWII – Gabo, Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy. When the war began Hepworth and Nicholson relocated to St Ives in Cornwall where they continued to work and succeeded in their efforts to attract international attention. In the 50s, after divorcing Nicholson, Hepworth confirmed her reputation as one of Britain’s major artists producing two sculptures for 1951’s Festival of Britain and retrospective shows in Wakefield and at London’s Whitechapel. Both the 50s and 60s were good to her; Hepworth’s international stature grew. She was awarded the CBE and later, the DBE. She had a further retrospective in 1962 at the Whitechapel, became a trustee of the Tate and had a retrospective exhibition there in 1968. Barbara Hepworth died in St Ives in 1975 – her studio and garden there are now a museum administered by the Tate – after a long battle with cancer. Celebrating her achievement and named in her honour, 2011 saw the opening of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery in her home town.

Sold earlier this year through Christies and significantly surpassing its estimated sale price of £70,000 – £100,000, ($112,980 – $161,400) selling at £145,000 ($236,612), the Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, sculpture is of 18 carat gold (Apparently, the best gold you can get for making precious objects, 22 carat is too soft). Deep in the current world recession, apparently far worse than that of the 30s and in post WWII Britain, and as gold prices head towards $5,000 (£3,127) an ounce, curiously in Sotheby’s Modern & Post-war British Art sale the estimated price for this piece exactly matches the earlier Christie’s estimate.

Works from top
Bridget Riley, Praise 1, circa 1981. Estimate £150,000-250,000
Augustus John OM, RA, David at the Table. Estimate £20,000-30,00
Dame Barbara Hepworth, Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, 1971.
Estimate £70,000-100,000
Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1971. Estimate £180,000-250,000
William Roberts RA, The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946. Estimate, £70,000-100,000


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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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