What would it have been like to sit for Goya? Or Velasquez? Or Ingres? We’re never really going to know but we will certainly know exactly what it was like to sit for Lucien Freud thanks to Martin Grayford’s book ‘The Man with the Blue Scarf‘.
Art critic Grayford sat for a portrait by the man described by Tom Wolfe as the greatest British painter of the last 100 years.
His observations on Freud’s technique, which turns out to be painstaking and demanding on his sitters, are fascinating.
The portrait ends up taking months to complete with the prospect of Freud giving up on it forever hanging in the air.
The simple act of deciding on the right color blue for the sitters scarf seems to take weeks.
It is not that Freud is looking to create a likeness of his sitter and his apparel, as Grayford himself points out many of Freud’s portraits to seem to bear more than passing resemblance to Freud himself. It’s almost as if the picture has it’s own truth that Freud is trying to painstakingly discover through every brush stroke.
Along the way, Grayford engages Freud in conversation that reveals much about the man’s influences and past life. There are some amusing anecdotes like the time he would look after stolen goods for local gangsters or introduced some British members of a ship crew to the joys of French cuisine (they found it difficult to go along with his enthusiasm. “We’re not used to all these flavors, Lou” was their comment)
Our lasting impression however is of Freud’s singular vision. Here is a man who knows exactly what he wants and has spent years making sure he gets it, as his work shows only too readily.