"Woman Holding Foot"
Lucian Freud, "Woman Holding Foot," 1985, Etching, 36” x 29” Ed. 16/50.
LUCIAN FREUD (1922-2011)
By Jill Sawyer
Nothing hides in Lucian Freud’s portraiture. When his painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping broke auction records in 2008 for the highest price paid for a work by a living artist (sold at just over $33 million), much of the commentary was about the “ugliness” of its subject.
A meticulous oil, Freud spent months working on the nude portrait of a friend, Sue Tilley, an author and employee at a London job centre. Her gray-pink flesh is curled on a tattered couch, face mottled and pressed into the cushions. It’s remarkably bare and stark, in all ways, at the same time a true representation of life and the human form.
Freud sought nakedness in many of his subjects, or at least a certain unguardedness and repose. He painted friends and dignitaries — Queen Elizabeth II, Kate Moss, famously, the larger-than-life fetish artist Leigh Bowery. He painted stables of horses, and his beloved whippet dogs. He painted himself wearing only a pair of hobnail boots, sparing nothing for the loosening skin of his chest, and a face like a creased old turnip.
A grandson of Sigmund Freud, the painter is definitively considered one of the great artists of the 20th century. He lived most of his life in London, collecting wives and children, and existing eccentrically and prolifically within the swirl of intelligent high life in the city. In the unfashionable world of representational portrait painting, Freud became intensely sought after, if controversial. His portrait of Elizabeth II in thick impasto and extreme close-up was widely considered to be undignified, but it remains in the Queen’s own collection at Buckingham Palace.
Much of the power of his paintings came through in the intense observations he made of his subjects. His gaze was described as “omnivorous” by one of his sitters, and Tilley herself describes the months she spent in Freud’s studio, subject and painter both facing the canvas. Freud would turn around and look intently at her, turning back to the canvas to paint. He worked the same way in etching. For a large retrospective of his etching works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2008, his process was described as being much like his approach to portrait painting — he would prop the copper plate up on his easel and work from a live sitting.
Edmonton-based gallerist Doug Udell (he also has a gallery in Vancouver) was first introduced to Freud’s etchings in 1985 by a client, and this work, Woman Holding Foot, is one of the first he acquired. Created in small editions (of no more than 50), 25 years ago the etchings were an easy entry point for Freud collectors. In the intervening years, and especially since the artist’s death in July, they have risen dramatically in price — expect to pay around $100,000 for one.
But Udell still handles Freud etchings occasionally, and cites Woman Holding Foot as one that has come back to the gallery. Though non-figurative works are rarer and more sought-after, the large size of this makes it highly collectible.