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Lucian Freud's rare 1956 portrait of Guinness heir to make auction debut
Mesmeric portrait of the artist’s lifelong friend, the late Hon. Garech Browne. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Rendered with a captivating intensity and a remarkable tenderness, Lucian Freud’s mesmerising early portrait, Head of a Boy, will appear on the market for the first time as a highlight of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on March 5.

Embodying the sensational powers of observation which famously characterise Freud’s work, this tightly composed painting from 1956 is a remarkable example of portraiture executed when Freud was just 34 years of age. Small in scale and yet boasting a remarkable emotional intensity, the 18 by 18cm work is at once testament to the artist’s masterful control over his subject, and a tremendous tribute to the sitter - the late Hon. Garech Browne.

The portrait bespeaks the lifelong friendship between Lucian Freud and Garech Browne - dedicated patron of Irish music, poetry and culture, Guinness heir, and last custodian to the magical Luggala estate.

Freud first visited Luggala in the 1940s with his wife Kitty, before eloping with Garech’s cousin, Lady Caroline Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, in 1952. This painting of a young Garech was created at the Luggala estate during a potentially fractious moment in the course of Freud’s tempestuous second marriage; he and Caroline acrimoniously separated in 1957, barely a year after its execution.

Rarely exhibited and yet well known within Freud’s historical cannon, the painting speaks to both the history of Luggala and the history of Freud’s oeuvre in equally important measure. Tom Eddison, Contemporary Art Specialist at Sotheby’s London, explains:

“The first appearance at auction of a portrait of such extraordinary quality from this early period in Freud’s career is an incredibly rare and exciting moment. Head of a Boy from 1956 boasts the technical brilliance and focused scale that is so prevalent in the masterpieces of this period, and as this jewel of a painting demonstrates, Freud was unique in his ability to deliver such extraordinary impact within such a small arena. There is no question that Freud’s most arresting images are born from his closest relationships, and in this painting of Garech Browne we witness a tantalising story that is truly unparalleled – immortalising one of Ireland’s greatest cultural patrons and a bygone era of flamboyant creativity and unprecedented social synergy at bohemian Luggala”.

The Legendary Luggala Estate
The appearance of Head of a Boy at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction denotes its market debut, having been installed adjacent to the fireplace in the grand sitting room at Luggala for over half a century. The portrait is Freud’s second attempt at capturing Garech’s likeness, the first of which was foiled by a great fire in January 1956, which damaged much of the property and its contents.

An enchanting eighteenth century hunting lodge set amidst 5,000 acres at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains, Luggala is inextricably tied to the glittering social scene of the twentieth century. It was given as a wedding present by Ernest Guinness, to his youngest daughter, the spirited socialite Oonagh Guinness, Lady Oranmore and Browne, whose dazzling social circle and legendary hospitality resulted in an effervescent social hub unlike any other, attracting swathes of the century’s most eminent figures, from Hollywood movie stars and actors to politicians, political insurgents, artists and the aristocracy.

Of all of the luminaries who frequented Luggala, Garech proclaimed that “perhaps the person from whom I learned most was Lucian Freud” (Garech Browne quoted in: Ibid).

The first child of Dominick and Oonagh Oranmore and Browne, Garech became custodian of Luggala in 1970. He continued the legacy of legendary Guinness hospitality at Luggala with flamboyant aplomb.

Having resisted institutionalisation at a young age, Garech completed his school years without any official qualifications, instead preferring to nurture his love of Irish art, poetry and music. He relished live performances by musicians in his house and in turn attracted many visitors to Luggala; the visitors’ book highlights the diversity of musicians who spent time at the house from 1970: singer Dolores Keane, composer Frederick May, singer Marianne Faithfull, Sting, Bono, The Rolling Stones, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and Michael Jackson.

In 1959 he founded Claddagh Records, which is credited with the revival of the Irish music genre, producing bands including The Chieftains. By the end of his life, Garech was one of Ireland’s most colourful and influential figures in the fields of art, poetry and music.

Today's News

February 1, 2019

Lucian Freud's rare 1956 portrait of Guinness heir to make auction debut

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