'I myself have sat for two paintings and an etching and have never felt the slightest hint of morbid manipulation in the execution or results - neither do I feel it with portraits naked or clothed of all the people whom I know well or fairly well who have sat for him. It is indeed no ordeal at all to sit for Lucian, unless like me, you do not like to sit or stand still for more than two minutes. But one is offered frequent enough breaks 'for a stretch', and for about half the time a stream of good gossip, old song lyrics and jokes, all from someone who is sacrificing no concentration on his work at all - which is executed with no knowingness whatever - every part of his subject being addressed as if for the first time.' (Bruce Bernard, unpublished notes courtesy of Virginia Verran for the Estate of Bruce Bernard).
Bruce Bernard was born in 1928. His great passion throughout his life was for painting. He left St Martin's School of Art without completing the course and after many years began his first job for a magazine called 'History of the Twentieth Century'. From 1972 to 1980 he was the picture editor of the Sunday Times Magazine and later the visual arts editor of the Saturday Independent Magazine. Bernard also published a number of books on art and photography, among them Century, a photographic account of the Twentieth Century and the most important monograph to date on Lucian Freud. Last year the book Freud at Work was published - a collection of photographs of Freud and the working practice of his studio taken by Bruce Bernard and David Dawson.
Bernard first met Freud in 1942 when he was only fourteen and the artist twenty. Over the next decades the two men established an intense and lasting friendship. Bernard's love and knowledge of art, his expertise and a reputation for unerring critical judgement formed the basis for many friendships with artists during the heyday of Soho's bohemia in the1950s. Bernard and his younger brother, the infamous journalist and bon vivant Jeffrey, were familiar figures in the artistic haunts of the area such as the Colony Room, the French Pub and Caves de France. Bernard is perhaps less known for his activity as a photographer than as a journalist, as he disliked being called one, but throughout the last twenty years of his life he took many fascinating photographs and established a substantial body of work. In May 2002, Tate Britain showed an exhibition of his photographs of five leading British artists whom he knew well; Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Euan Uglow and Lucian Freud. Bernard also produced an ongoing record of Lucian Freud at work and the life of his studio that began in 1980s - a role that since has been taken on by David Dawson Freud's assistant and an artist in his own right.
Although Bernard had known Lucian Freud for a very long time it was not until 1985 that he finally agreed to sit for the artist. Freud had on several occasions told Bernard that he wanted to paint him but Bernard was unwilling to respond to this request as he was fearful of sitting or standing for the long periods of time that he was very aware that Freud's painstakingly slow methods required. It was only on hearing in 1985 that Freud's working speed had appreciably increased that Bernard first sat for an etching and 'considered accepting what I still saw as a burdensome honour' in sitting for a Freud portrait. It took two drawings and twenty-eight sittings to produce the etching. When a painting was suggested six years later Bernard finally 'consented with a keen interested in the result'. In organising an appropriate pose with the artist, Bernard declared to Freud that he preferred to stand and suggested 'a pose with my hands in my pockets, looking gloomily slightly downwards - a stance entirely natural to me'. It was not long before 'I very soon realised how clever I was to conceal my hands, as this must have saved me about seven sessions... (and later) I was rather pleased to see (the finished painting) as a poster - three of me on rather abstracted guard on each side of the Whitechapel Art Gallery.' (ibid)
During the 1990s Freud was working on a number of large and ambitious canvases that gave his studio and its props an increased atmospheric or dramatic role. This was a feature of his work that had originated with his paintings of Leigh Bowery and which had now become the norm. In this portrait of Bruce Bernard, Bernard's figure is set against the interior of Freud's Holland Park studio stubbornly standing in front of its familiar rags and floorboards. Such is the rootedness of Bernard's stance that it was suggested rather cruelly when the painting was first shown that Bernard seemed a little like one of Van Gogh's Potato Eaters though Bernard himself thought the 'portrait remarkably faithfully descended more from Manet'. Freud had been keen to paint Bernard for at least six years before creating this work and there is certainly something of the spontaneity and freshness of Manet's approach along with a deep familiarity with his subject matter conveyed in this work.
In addition to exhibiting the painstaking scrutiny that Freud brings to all his work - the looking at the subject, however familiar, 'as if for the first time' - this painting also betrays a warmth in the way in which an understanding of the figure's character is seemingly conveyed through his posture. Sculpting the figure through the strongly directional brush marks made by the dry hog's hair brushes Freud favoured, the pleats and folds of Bernard's clothes articulate and express this posture with an assuredness and command that suggests not only a naturalness but a complete understanding of its reflection of Bernard's character. It is in this respect that this work relates so strongly to such pictures as Manet's Philosopher from 1865 or Velázquez's Menippus from 1636-40. It is also a testimony to the accuracy of this portrait that the current owners of the painting were able to recognise Bernard purely from the way he walked and stood when they first saw him at a gallery opening in the mid-1990s.
Lucian Freud (b. 1922)
Oil on canvas
SELECTED WORKS FROM THE ELAINE AND MELVIN MERIANS COLLECTION
Lucian Freud , 1990s, Paintings, canvas, Great Britain, miniature, Contemporary, portrait
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucian Freud: Recent Work, September-November 1993, no. 80 (illustrated in colour, p. 160). This exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Musuem of Art, December 1993-March 1994 and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, April-June 1994.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, The School of London and Their Friends: the Collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians, October 2000-January 2001, no. 33 (illustrated in colour, p. 75). This exhibition later travelled to Purchase, Neuberger Museum of Art, January-May 2001.
London, Tate Gallery, Lucian Freud, June-September 2002, no. 121 (illustrated in colour, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Fundació La Caixa, October-January 2003 and Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, February-May 2003.
Venice, Museo Correr, Lucian Freud, June-October 2005, no. 54 (illustrated in colour, p. 137).
45 x 33in. (114.2 x 83.7cm.)
B. Bernard (ed.), Century, London 1999, (illustrated in colour, p. 1119).
B. Bernard and D. Birdsall, Lucian Freud, London 1996, no. 254 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
'The Fugitive. Bruce Bernard on Lucian Freud' in The Independent on Sunday, 5 September 1993.
Acquavella Galleries, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1993.