Lucian Freud’s moving paintings of his second wife are currently on show at Ordovas, London (until 1st August 2015). ‘Girl – Lucian Freud’ presents one of Freud’s most famous portraits in a completely new light: by displaying the woman in the painting alongside her actual image through archival photography.
The subject of this small but beautifully curated survey is Lady Caroline Blackwood, best known as the young blonde in ‘Girl in Bed’ (1952).
Girl in Bed, 1952 by Lucian Freud / Bridgeman Images
Alongside are three other paintings by Lucian Freud of her: ‘Girl Reading’ (1952); ‘The Sisters’ (1954), a study of Blackwood’s right eye; and ‘Girl by the Sea’ (1956), painted just before they separated.
Girl Reading, 1952 by Lucian Freud / Bridgeman Images
Together, the four paintings are a visual representation of the relationship’s rise and fall: starting with their early romance and Freud’s delicate, meticulous capturing of each strand of Blackwood’s hair and eyelashes; ending with his dishevelled rendering of her hair, her grim mouth, and she leaving him a few months later.
The Sisters, 1954 by Lucian Freud / Bridgeman Images
Girl by the Sea, 1956 by Lucian Freud / Bridgeman Images
Complimenting the four paintings in this exhibition are items relating to Blackwood and Freud’s relationship, including a notebook with her sprawling handwriting noting his address (thought to be a reminder of her first sitting at his studio); a photograph of the couple on their honeymoon; and portraits of Blackwood after their divorce by the pioneering American photographer Walker Evans. It is fascinating to see from these photos that, far from being the limp-haired, ethereal girl with a far-away gaze that Freud made her out to be, Blackwood could stare down her subject – be it Freud or the viewer – with the most surprising, intense and piercing look.
Lucian Freud and Caroline Blackwood, Madrid, 1953 / Bridgeman Images
Caroline Blackwood first met Lucian Freud in 1949; she, the eldest daughter of the 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and the brewery heiress Maureen Guinness and he, a relatively-unknown painter still married to Kitty Epstein, the daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein and Kathleen Garman. In 1952, Blackwood and Freud eloped to Paris then married a year later back in London.
The Marriage of Lucian Freud and Lady Caroline Blackwood, 1953 / Bridgeman Images
Blackwood plunged herself into Freud’s bohemian lifestyle and inner circle that included Francis Bacon, James Pope-Hennessey, John Minton and Cyril Connolly. Freud’s gambling and recklessness, however, led to the break-up of their marriage in 1956. Blackwood moved to the United States and became a celebrated journalist and acclaimed author. She went on to marry the composer Israel Citkowitz, and, later, the poet Robert Lowell.
Freud’s paintings of Blackwood were considered, at the time, to be aggressive and brutal portraits; but now, in light of Freud’s mature style, they are deemed to be some of his most tender works.