Room 5 shows Freud in his middle years, at the height of his powers. In the late 1970s he had moved to a spacious, top-floor flat in West London. This was Freud’s first proper studio; he installed a skylight in it so that he could paint indoors in much brighter daylight than before. The Large Interior W11 (after Watteau) 1981-3, painted in this brighter light, derives from a painting by the early-eighteenth century artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau. Freud began painting this on a larger scale than he had worked on before, partly because he was having trouble with his shoulder which he feared, wrongly as it turned out, would mean that he would soon become incapable of working on such a scale.
Also in Room 5 is Freud’s portrait of the wealthy collector Baron Thyssen, who is the Man in a Chair, 1983-5, and some of Freud’s great naked portraits of around 1980, including portraits of his daughters, Rose and Esther 1980. When asked if it wasn’t slightly odd to paint his grown-up daughters in this way, Freud replied ‘My naked daughters have nothing to be ashamed of’.
Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) 1981-3
Freud produced this, for him unusually large, painting using the daylight flooding in from the newly-installed skylight in his west London flat. Its composition derives from a small painting by the early-eighteenth century French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau, showing a Pierrot teased by a group of flirting women. Freud’s painting is focussed around Suzy Boyt’s son Kai (in yellow) who takes the place of Pierrot. Around him are the women in Freud’s life: his daughter Bella playing the mandolin, Kai’s mother to the right, holding a fan, and the painter, Celia Paul, on the left. Freud wanted one of his grand-daughters to pose for the smaller figure in the foreground, though in the end he had to make do with a substitute. He described the finished result as ‘A slight bit of role playing’.
Man in a Chair 1983-5
This is a portrait of Baron Thyssen, who owned the small painting known as Les Jaloux, or Pierrot Content, by Jean-Antoine Watteau which Freud used as the basis for his earlier work, Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) 1981-3. On the floor is a pile of the cotton rags on which Freud wipes his palette knife and paint brushes as he works. Although the portrait was commissioned by Baron Thyssen, Freud was insistent that this in no way affected his approach to the work: ‘People go on about how to be commissioned is on some way to be trammelled or harnessed or limited. Auden said a very sensible thing about this. “In the end”, he said, “it’s a romantic idea. Whatever an artist does, they think they’re commissioning themselves.”’
This painting was begun in 1979. Esther was sixteen and had just moved to London, as a consequence of which she had started getting to know her father better. When people asked whether it wasn’t odd to paint his daughters naked, Freud said ‘There is something about a person being naked in front of me that involves consideration. You could even call it chivalry on my part; in the case of my children a father’s consideration as well as a painter’s. They make it all right for me to paint them. My naked daughters have nothing to be ashamed of.’ Esther has also said that it didn’t seem odd to her: ‘What happened was that when I used to go and visit his studio I would always see nudes so when he asked if I would like to sit for him, I said yes and without any thought or discussion, I took off my clothes and sat down.’