The second room contains some of the earliest paintings and drawings in the exhibition, including work produced during the Second World War. Freud was too young to be called up when war broke out in 1939, but in 1941, aged 18 and anxious to get away from London, he had gone to Liverpool. Here he had hung around the docks, and eventually got himself enlisted in the Merchant Navy. ‘I liked the idea of adventure - the Ancient Mariner.’ After only a few months, he was discharged sick and exempted from conscription.
In 1942 he and fellow painter John Craxton rented rooms in St John’s Wood, North London. In the absence of anyone to sit for him, Freud painted and drew from inanimate objects: a stuffed zebra head, dead monkeys from a local pet shop, and a Palmtree 1944. After the war, Freud was able to travel, to the Scilly Isles, to Paris, and to Greece, where he painted an Unripe Tangerine 1946. Room 2 also contains works on paper, including etchings of Freud’s first wife, Kitty, a watercolour of a dead monkey and a drawing of Francis Bacon from 1952.
This palm tree, which Freud bought from a garden centre in St John’s Wood, became part of his studio for many years. It appears in a number of his paintings, including The Painter’s Room 1943-4, and Interior in Paddington 1951, though by the early 1950s the plant was looking rather tired. Later in 1944, the year in which this drawing was made, Freud had his first one-man show, at the Lefevre Gallery. Reviews were mixed: John Piper wrote in The Listener that Freud ‘has a cultivated feeling for line, when he can be bothered with it, and a natural feeling for colour’, though Michael Ayrton, in The Spectator, thought that ‘The human forms defeats him because he does not observe it as he does dead birds.’
Unripe Tangerine 1946
After the war, Freud was keen to take to opportunity to travel; he was unable to go to France as he wanted, but managed to get as far as the Isles of Scilly. By the summer of 1946 travel was easier, and he managed to get to Paris and then, later the same summer, Freud went to Greece, at the suggestion of the painter, John Craxton. The two spent some months in Poros, where Freud painted still-life objects - lemons and tangerines, horns and sea thistles - in the bright southern light.
Francis Bacon 1952
Freud first met fellow-painter Francis Bacon in 1945, when both went to stay for the weekend with another painter, Graham Sutherland. Freud said of Bacon ‘Once I met him I saw him a lot’; he became the person Freud turned to for stimulus and provocation. Bacon painted a portrait of Freud in 1951, working not in front of his subject but using a photo of the writer Franz Kafka, whose work Freud admires. In the following year, Freud painted Bacon’s portrait in oils on a small copper plate, sitting so close to his subject that their knees touched. This portrait was stolen in 1988 when it was on loan from the Tate to a gallery in Berlin. Freud drew the study of Bacon shown here one evening at his home in Clifton Hill, St John’s Wood. The two painters remained friends until the late 1970s.