ARTIST Lucian Freud had 14 children, was intensely private, and often got family and friends to pose half naked with their pets for months on end for his confronting paintings.
The 20th century British painter is best known for his searingly honest figurative works, which have been described as “candid almost to the point of cruelty”.
One of his most visceral paintings Naked Man With Rat was purchased by the WA Art Gallery in 1984 and remains one of the most popular in their collection.
Now for the first time in Australia we get a glimpse of the creative process behind the art with a series of photos taken by Freud’s then-young daughter Rose Boyt in the studio during the creation of the painting in 1978.
Freud was intensely private and rarely photographed, and the photos have been only exhibited once before in London, so it’s a fascinating and rare peek into the world of one of Britain’s most celebrated and recondite portraitists.
“Naked Man With Rat depicts interior designer Raymond Jones, who, like many of Freud’s sitters, was a friend,” exhibition curator Dunja Rmandic says.
“Freud’s fascination with the unmediated, vulnerable and objectively seen human body led to a practice where sessions would last for months with a pose or a prop adding an element of awkwardness, thus bringing out a rawness in the sitter that Freud was after.
“The rat was necessary, Jones recalled, because ‘if the rat was not there,’ Freud told him, ‘your mind would be working differently’.”
The black-and-white photos aren’t just an amazing snapshot in time; they have a chaotic and meta quality to them, like some strange Russian Doll with Boyt taking photos of her dad creating an artwork of a family friend and his pet rat.
“Experimental and boisterous, Boyt forged a relationship with her father the same way as his other children, who had to get used to his unconventional parenting style,” Rmandic says.
“He painted many of them, including Boyt, whose unfinished portrait appears in the background of her photographs.
“The power dynamic between the three protagonists comes into focus in these images and they capture Boyt’s agency as a daughter, a sitter and a photographer in her own right.”
Freud was born to Jewish parents in 1922 in Berlin and was the grandson of Sigmund Freud. His family moved to England in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism.
He married twice, with two kids from his first marriage, and had at least 12 other children with mistresses, with some reports saying he could have as many 40.
The lifestyle clearly suited him and he enjoyed a good innings, dying aged 88 in London in 2011.
Rmandic says Boyt’s 13 photos in the AGWA exhibition capture the intimate and complex relationship Freud had with his subjects during their epic sittings.
“There is fun and trust that comes through their interaction and one can see how some of the sitter’s emotion comes through in the painting itself,” she says.
“What is interesting too, is Boyt’s assertion of her own agency, in framing and taking the photos, as well as showing glimpses of the unfinished painting Freud was working on depicting her.”
In the Studio: Rose Boyt and Lucian Freud is at the WA Art Gallery until Thursday (February 10).
By STEPHEN POLLOCK