Friends and Relations: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews is a new exhibition opening on November 17 at the Gagosian gallery’s Grosvenor Hill location in London.
Taking as its inspiration a John Deakin photograph from 1963 which shows the four painters in Soho (along with the much younger painter Timothy Behrens, the subject of a portrait by Freud that is on view), the exhibition includes some of the artists’ portraits of each other, aiming to elucidate the connections between their respective practices.
Curated by art historian Richard Calvocoressi, Friends and Relations aims to contextualise the four artists’ works, exploring the intersection of their styles, practices and relationships. Comprising approximately forty paintings from private and public collections, it positions Freud as the central figure. Each painter was aware of the others’ practices, sometimes to the point of overt competition, but of the four, Freud alone collected his friends’ work.
Portraiture was at the heart of Freud’s, Bacon’s, Auerbach’s, and, less directly, Andrews’s practices, and the exhibition’s title echoes not only the four artists’ camaraderie, but also intimate relationships between artist and sitter. In the case of Freud and Bacon, these roles were often exchanged.
The friendship between Freud and Bacon is commemorated in the latter’s Three Studies for Portraits: Isabel Rawsthorne, Lucian Freud and J.H. (1966), in which Freud’s head is paired with those of John Hewitt, an antiquities dealer and long-term friend of Bacon’s, and Rawsthorne, a close friend and fellow artist whom Bacon painted many times.
Bacon took great care over the portraits of his friends, particularly Freud. Of Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, art historian Martin Harrison writes:
“On the reverse of a photograph of the right-hand panel, Bacon has written ‘Portrait of Lucian Freud. Dec 1968. Francis Bacon’. From January 1969 Bacon completed the triptych in the studio he borrowed at the Royal College of Art. The complicated and protracted gestation of this triptych evinces the importance Bacon attached to it. Eventually he was satisfied with it, and it was one of the relatively few of his paintings he found praiseworthy. He told Hugh Davies in 1973: ‘Even though the face is very abstract and contorted I think I caught a real likeness of Lucian… Freud sat like that and wore his clothes like that’.”
Excerpt: Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing, 2016 p. 906).
The two painters were close rivals as much as they were friends. Artistically, Bacon and Freud both explored the human figure, whose essence of flesh and bone they both sought to grasp. However, the painters had very different approaches to reaching this goal. Notably, Bacon developed his paintings from photographic material, while Freud only painted from life.
The friendship was intense but ended abruptly. During the 1950s and 60s Freud and Bacon would see each other almost every day. They stayed friends until the mid-80s, at which point they fell out bitterly.
Read more about Francis Bacon’s friends and sitters here.