Inside Lucian Freud’s studio: preserved since his death
It might sound ridiculously ambitious but it was always a dream of mine to have my portrait painted by Lucian Freud. So when he died last summer not only was I sad to hear of the passing of one of the most important painters in the history of British art but I was also saying goodbye to my own little dream. Little did I know that just over a year later I’d be invited into the studio where Freud painted some of his most famous portraits. And it was a truly incredible experience.
The studio covers the first floor of a large Georgian townhouse in west London which has been inherited by Freud’s assistant of over twenty years, David Dawson. Dawson’s decided to develop and move into the house and is resisting all pressure to convert it into some kind of Freud museum. Although he is committed to preserving the studio exactly as it was on the day Lucian died. So Freud’s tubes of paint and brushes are lying where he left them, his discarded paint rags form a heap on the floor, and scribbled notes and reminders of appointments are still visible on the walls.
There are actually two studios, one illuminated by natural light in which he painted during the day and the other (through interconnecting double doors) installed with electric light for painting by night. And it’s fascinating to see exactly where he stood and to spot his famous props of mattresses, beds and chairs scattered around.
This was the space where Freud worked for the last 15 years of his life after he moved from his previous studio in nearby Holland Park. It’s a space he created towards the end of his career when he had the resources to design and create a studio which would perfectly complement and facilitate the working practices he’d developed over the several previous decades. It very much represents his ideal workspace, the spatial expression of everything he stood for as an artist.
So the walls are decorated in neutral colours and there’s nothing in the rooms that would stand out or distract his attention from the model he was painting. He preferred to work in a living space in a house rather than a stark warehouse setting, which presumably helped put his sitters at ease, with an unpolished, slightly rough-and-ready look which must have been conceived with the same objective.
The back room (looking on to the garden) is almost silent while the front room (facing onto the street) is filled with the constant, gentle hum of traffic. And looking around you can imagine the intense atmosphere as Lucian would chat to his models over months and often years of sittings for each painting, gently probing them and observing their every move as his brushstrokes gradually built up portraits as acclaimed for their unique aesthetic as they were for their psychological penetration.
Chatting to David Dawson about Freud’s working practices in the space was a very special experience for me. As was hearing the reasons why he’s decided to lock up the studio once he moves into the house, ultimately to respect the privacy he knows Freud valued so much in his working life.
It almost made up for the fact that Freud never asked to paint my portrait. Almost.
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