Breakfast with Lucian Freud and his wonderful sketchbooks

There is something incredibly intimate about looking into someone’s sketchbooks, a raw, naked exposure into the mind of an individual. This was the feeling that I had when I was invited to the National Portrait Gallery for a private viewing (and breakfast) at the Lucian Freud sketchbook exhibition, and I loved it. 

Walking into the exhibition space it was nice to actually have some, space that is! I had heard about the exhibition and wanted to see it but had also heard how crowded it could get which is not something that appeals to me. This experience however, just Lucian’s mind and me perusing his sketchbooks was definitely my cup of tea!


I must have walked around the centre table so many times that I started to get dizzy. I was stunned by the variety of styles that the sketchbooks displayed. 

It was wonderful to see a sense of freedom and abandonment through the years of development of one man’s work. I love watching any artist work and this felt as close as I would ever get to seeing Lucian Freud at work in person.


As I have been fortunate to be able to review Lucian Freud’s work over the last three years, as we manage the copyright for the Freud estate, I had a strange feeling that I could almost see how the finished work would look if it was to be painted, almost see it happening as I looked at the sketches.

I am no art scholar, so I am sure my thoughts and feelings over the sketchbooks may sound a little basic compared to the art historians that we have in Bridgeman, of which I have the utmost respect for their knowledge. But as a simple lover of all things art I felt captivated by Lucian Freud’s sketchbooks and found it hard to leave. 


Seeing Lucian Freud’s childhood drawings and letters in the exhibition showed a delightful insight into the history of such a talented artist. Although only a snapshot of the sketches were on display I felt the National Portrait Gallery had displayed a variety that covered Lucian Freud’s life in a delightful manner and if you haven’t seen the exhibition I suggest you go soon. 


The unfinished self-portrait looked like Lucian Freud was peering through a tear in the wall, trying to break free to join us in this beautiful space in the gallery. So much detail and work had gone into the face in this self-portrait that I wondered about the reasons he never completed this particular painting. Did he not like it? Or was there another reason? I didn’t get that answer from the plaque on the wall.


I didn’t want to leave this exhibition as I felt elevated seeing the journey of such a wonderful artist and it reminded me of a book I am currently reading. The book is called The Arts Dividend – Why investment in culture pays by Darren Henley. In the book Darren talks about the four stages people experience when visiting a cultural experience.

The first is knowledge based where someone experiences and learns from a particular cultural activity. The second focuses on developing critical skills, which can be applied across other subjects. The third element encourages participation in an activity and seeing Lucian’s sketchbooks certainly sparked my love of drawing and creating. 


The fourth and final element is about the development of an individual’s personal creativity that applies to all aspects of their lives. In the book Darren is talking about the cultural development of children but as I walked around the Lucian Freud sketchbooks I felt that surge of excitement and desire to create that I remember burning so strongly as a child and realised the importance of feeding it as often as I can with more visits to exhibitions like this one.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it certainly was for me the day I visited the private exhibition of Lucian Freud’s sketchbooks at the National Portrait Gallery. Take a moment to see some of Lucian Freud’s paintings we have in our archive and if you need to license any images please get in touch

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