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Major Lucian Freud portrait to be offered for sale at Sotheby's London Evening sale of Contemporary Art
Lucian Freud, Head on a Green Sofa (1960-61), est. £2.5-3.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON.- A Lucian Freud portrait of Belinda “Bindy”, Lady Lambton - an extraordinary woman who featured large in the artist’s life for over 25 years - will be offered for sale by her son Edward, Lord Durham, in Sotheby’s London Evening sale of Contemporary Art on 12 February 2014. Estimated at £2.5-3.5 million, Head on a Green Sofa (1960-61) was long considered by Freud to be among the best works he ever produced. Painted at a pivotal moment in his career, it has featured in many important museum exhibitions and was last seen in the major Freud retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2012 which travelled to the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art in Texas.

Speaking of the sale, Lord Durham said, “I am delighted that the painting of my mother has been so well received and hope that it finds a good home in the future. It is being sold, following a welcome settlement between my sisters and me, and also to carry out much needed reparations to Lambton Estates.

My earliest memory of Lucian was when my mother took me to his studio. I couldn't have been much more than about five years old. He was painting. I shone a torch in his face. He was furious and screamed at me. I never forgave him."

Speaking of the painting, Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Senior International Specialist for Contemporary Art said: ‘This exceptional painting has everything. It is one of only a very small number of great Freud paintings that have never before surfaced on the market, and it beautifully captures the form of the woman who was to play such a central role in Freud’s life for over two decades. It also marks a moment of cataclysmic change in Freud’s artistic style and practice and sees him embark on a new way of painting which was to define his career.’

Born Belinda Blew-Jones in 1921, Bindy’s early life was not particularly easy, but she was soon taken under the wing of her glamorous socialite aunt Freda Dudley Ward (a girlfriend of the Prince of Wales – the future Edward VIII). Expelled from 11 schools, she grew into an unconventional woman of original wit and handsome angular good-looks, with an irrepressible joie-de-vivre. Marrying Antony, Lord Lambton, at the age of 18 she became a doyenne of British high society - attracting a veritable army of admirers and friends including Nancy Mitford, Ari Onassis, Paul Getty, Bing Crosby, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall.

Forever an eccentric, she was also determined her six children should have a happy upbringing and their holidays were spent travelling around Britain and Europe in a 50ft caravan. At her country home Biddick Hall in County Durham she hosted legendary parties. The leopards and lions kept in the gardens by a local butcher were said to occasionally roam around the bedrooms of the 18th century mansion.

Her enduring relationship with Lucian Freud not only marked a major moment in his artistic career, but also threw into sharp relief the ‘dual’ life that Freud so enjoyed – with one foot firmly planted in the gritty Bohemian underworld of the artists, gamblers, and occasionally villains, with whom he fraternised, and the other in the glamorous social circles of the likes of Bindy Lambton, Anne and Ian Fleming, Noël Coward and Cecil Beaton. Indeed, Bindy was a major advocate for Freud throughout, introducing him to ever more of her illustrious friends and helping to secure numerous commissions for him.

During the 1950s, Freud divided his time between the Lambton’s ‘haunted’ and supremely elegant Georgian house on South Audley Street, Mayfair, and his dilapidated studio which stood among the bomb-damaged houses on Delamere Terrace in Paddington. He spent much of his time with Bindy and her six children, travelling with them and introducing his world to them and theirs to his friends.

On one occasion, he brought his favoured muse Leigh Bowery to the Lambton’s home in the Kings Road to show him how an aristocrat lived. But Bindy and Freud’s extravagant style was not always appreciated by the others in Freud’s life: Lucian’s ex-wife Kitty Garman eventually took the artist to court on the grounds that the luxurious Lambton lifestyle was corrupting their daughters Annabel and Annie Freud.

Like all the truly great portrait artists, from Durer to Rembrandt to Bacon, Freud has an uncompromising ability to excavate every peculiarity of a person revealing an incommunicable essence of his subject, an inward tension.

Head on a Green Sofa, painted during long afternoons spent watching racing on a small black and white television, is a deeply personal and intimate portrait - a minute study of a human, private moment. It is one of the artist’s most arresting and evocative images all of which were borne from his most intimate relationships.

The work also helped shape much of what was to come in Freud’s later career, helping to define his reputation as a modern master of figuration. Painted during the early 1960s - a period of pivotal change in the artist’s work when, with renewed force, he cast aside his soft sable brushes and linear works in favour of a more forceful – and expressive – technique using hogs’ hair brushes. In Head on a Green Sofa we see thick, powerful strokes never before seen in Freud’s work. These perfectly complemented the athletic, angular frame of Bindy Lambton.

Freud’s first biographer, Lawrence Gowring wrote of the Bindy Lambton portraits: Illustration does these pictures no justice… The brush comes sweeping down, zig-zagging across the canvas, encompassing the solidity as it loops to and fro. It describes great churning curves which make the form… One feels in the paint how genial, how affectionate, the sitter was“ (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London, 1982, pp. 132-136)

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