Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sitters' Rights Reprised

Posing for Freud 

As promised, last night London law firm Collyer Bristow opened the doors to its gallery for an evening of wine, nibbles and a very interesting talk from Martin Gayford on being the subject of a Lucian Freud painting.

It was fascinating to hear how this portrait of Gayford has been transformed into “Man with a Blue Scarf” and now hangs somewhere in California completely disconnected from the original sitter. Gayford explained that unless you are the Queen or a fellow artist, your Lucian Freud portrait will, in most cases, receive an anonymous title such as the man with the blue scarf. Freud is of the opinion that you don’t need to know anything about the sitter in order to appreciate a portrait as a work of art. Apparently sitter’s rights don’t exist but they do provide the sitter with a good subject for a book.

A number of points about Freud’s technique and method were of particular interest:

Freud self portrait with the excess paint providing the background

When Freud finishes with some paint, the excess is plastered onto the wall in order to avoid it going on the carpet. This creates a dappled and textured effect which features in at least one Freud self-portrait.

His method is to start at one point in the painting and work outwards – although he will sketch out the underlying drawing on the canvas before starting work on the pupil of the eye (or some similarly small point on what will be the final painting).

Freud' method as seen in an unfinished Francis Bacon portrait
He is painstaking in his attention to detail and requires his sitter to be there at all times (even if he’s simply adding an apparently nondescript background in the top right hand corner). Each stroke is carefully pondered and considered before it is committed with the result that as much time can be spent in contemplation as in the application of paint to the canvas.

When Gayford accidentally turned up with a slightly different shade of blue scarf, Freud was sufficiently off put by the change of colour that he was unable to paint the scarf on that particular day. Although no blue paint had been added to the image before that day, Gayford surmised that all the other colours had been chosen on the basis of that particular blue and the slight change in shade was so noticeable to the artist’s eye that he was unable to continue.

Whatever time of day is chosen for the painting must be consistent (for Gayford he was there from around 6:30pm to 9:30pm for approximately six months).

The Law Society Art Group runs monthly events. They do not appear to have a website, but if you hear of any events, please let us know and we will add them to the blog.

Collyer Bristow’s gallery is open for viewing by appointment only during office hours. Its current collection is called Restless Nature and includes, amongst other things, a sphere of mouse skulls.


Lucy Day said...

Was a fascinating talk. More info about the Restless Nature Exhibition can also be found on the curators site at

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know more about sitter's rights, if they exist at all!