Lucian Freud (1922-2011) was known to have a fondness for animals. Through out his life he had dogs. Most famously, due to the immortalisation in paint are the two whippets spanning the work done 1980 – 2011. Here I want to take a good look at the relevant paintings and drawings to see if there is anything I can learn from the modern day master’s doggy depiction’s.
Unearthing these images on the Bridgmans Library web site gave me the opportunity to peruse most of his back catalogue. Which in my opinion is all ways time well spent. I’v unearthed some gems to discuss here. Starting with the etchings. These show Freud’s thinking in tone and line.
It seems from photos I have come across, a lot of which are available to see on the Bridgmans Library website that Freud never worked from photo but always from life. Very admirable. During the time spent of this course with the emphasis on drawing from life I have come to agree with the great man that the results you can get from a subject in the real is far more satisfactory than a study of a photograph. This is for many reasons that I have discussed several time during this blog so I won’t go through it again. This view was confirmed by the week I spent drawing at the LARA where they even go so far as to suggest finishing a figure drawing using memory and imagination and not a photo reference. Because the camera changes the shadow shapes, intensity, proportions, angle and more. They teach if a fine line is drawn to mark the darkest shadow areas this is enough to complete with out the model present. By using knowledge of light fall and human anatomy a convincing representation of form can be achieved.
For myself drawing the dog (Titch) that I am focusing on I have found photos have had there use particularly in learning the correct shapes of muzzle and nose especially. But the drawings from life always have more about them. I do not go quite as far as the LARA but favour for this subject a mix. I like to always start in front of the dog from life. Making quick preparatory studies and getting a good start on a more finished drawing. If I find my self in this position with a strong start, being completed outline and at least some form rendered, I have been taking a photo or two so I can continue to finish of the drawing when the dog inevitably moves or leaves the seen all together which happens quite a lot. I use my good camera for this which takes a high resolution image and I can adjust the light levels to get as close to what I am actually seeing. I make sure to shoot from the exact angle of eye level also.
Anyway, Back to Freud..
As I was saying he always worked from life in his studio. Even these etching of his two whippets Pluto and Eli I know to have been made in front of the subject as I have seen photos of the plates set up at the easel.
If you click on the image of Pluto you can see the millions of lines and marks that make up the image. I love seeing mask like this that show the energy of the artist at work. Freud builds up tone with these lines. but you can see his real interest is in following the contour paths that mark the landmarks of the body. The way the flesh hangs around the skull on the head, the protrusion of the shoulder joint and the nobly legs are drawn around and over with the fine lines. In this way I think we see the artist mapping out , thinking forward to painting. Unlike the drawings of Cecil Aldin who goes a long way to present us with the illusion of a 3D mutt. Freud shows us his thinking and feeling for the dogs in his unique engaging style.
Moving on to the paintings. I wanted to include a good selection of his paintings that include dogs. I love the way he affords them as much attention as the human figures, gives them a central role in the paintings and even goes as far as to equate them is status to the human figures with tittles such as ‘Double Portrait’ (1985-86) , Triple Portrait (1986-87) and ‘Eli and David’ (2005). In the last instance putting the dogs name ahead of the human sitters. In this way Freud shows us how important the dogs are to him. Showing that in may instances they are of more significance to him than the sitters. I think this is because he lived with them and new them so well. They played a much bigger part in his life than the humans and he shows us this in the paintings.
Freud is well known for painting his subjects often asleep or seemingly so. In this way there seems to be an increased level of intimacy as there is a level of trust associated with a person being relaxed enough to sleep in front of some one who is staring at them. Our primal instincts would probably tell us something staring intently must be a predator and there for we should stay awake and alert and keep our eyes on them. In fact I do find some of Freud’s paintings to be a little predatory as some of the close closed composition where figures fill the canvas in sexualised poses make me a little uncountable. Especially the ones with his daughters in.
The dogs are also painted asleep. I have come to learn this is the best way as it is the only time you have a chance of them staying still for any length of time. but more than this I think it does show a level of comfort and intimacy between artist and dog that I am finding pleasing in my own drawings.
I would really like to try to channel Freud in my drawings for the final assignment. The gravity, solidarity, volume he achieves with a really sense of flesh covering bone is what really makes him stand out as one of the greatest painters of all time. A true master. So I will try to take a lesson from looking deeply into these dog paintings. I have decided I want to use oil pastel for the proceeding dog drawings. It is the closes I can get to oil paint. The colours are strong and vibrant and the texture can be built up to an impasto style if desired. When viewing Freud’s paintings in the flesh (very apart noun to use in conjunction with Freud) there is texturing that projects for the canvas plane. Globs of paint that help make his trade mark tactile looking flesh. A similar sort of look might be achieved pressing hard with the pastels to leave globs on the surface.
Frued’s fabrics are legendary. Often like turbulent swirling seas of cotton. They are given so much attention under his scrutinise magnifying eye that they almost seem to have a life of their own. I am thinking about the possibility including a good deal of fabric in my own sleeping dog rendition. I could again learn a thing or two from taking a good look at his fabric’s in paint.
Just look how Pulot’s neck curbs over the arm of the man. Showing us gravity in the weighty sleepy head as well as the volume of arm beneath the dog.
I think Eli in the painting ‘ Eli and David’ (2005) is sublimely depicted. Just look at the legs! (click image for high resolution to take a better look). As with the humans Freud really makes us think about flesh and bone. Where I think most would just describe the fur covering of the dog he seems to say , look, there is flesh and blood and bone beneath. This is a warm living body not just a cute dog.