Room 6 contains paintings from the 1980s and early 1990s, painted on a larger scale, which Freud described as ‘Less autobiographical and more ambitious’. The exhibition, in 1987, of Freud’s work at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, had established his international reputation; Robert Hughes described him as ‘the greatest living realist painter’. Freud’s sitters included the painter Sophie de Stempel, who appears in Standing by the Rags 1988-9 and Lying by the Rags 1989-90.
Also in this room are paintings of an Australian performance artist named Leigh Bowery, notorious for the outrageous costumes he wore for his work in clubs and at concerts. Freud painted him naked, without his freaky outfits, as in Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990.
Standing by the Rags 1988-9
The sitter for this painting was the painter, Sophie de Stempel. She is shown in an awkward pose, half lying, half standing, with one arm raised, propped against the rags on which Freud wiped his brushes and palette knives. They accumulated in his studio, and Freud chose to use them as a background for several paintings, including this and Lying by the Rags, also shown in room 6.
De Stempel was not a professional model; Freud has always preferred to work from friends or members of his family, rather than models; as he explained in an interview recorded for the BBC in 1988, experienced models would have ‘an idea about posing in itself which is exactly what I’m trying not to do. I want them to be themselves’.
Lying by the Rags 1989-1990
Freud focuses on the details of his studio - shiny bare floorboards, the mound of paint-smeared rags - as well as the flesh and hair of his sitter, the painter Sophie de Stempel. Freud said the floorboards reminded him of the decks in Gustave Doré’s illustrations to The Ancient Mariner, but he insisted of all these things: ‘It is not remotely symbolical. That is what must be stressed.’
Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990
Leigh Bowery, notorious for the outrageous costumes he wore for his performances on the club scene was, unusually for Freud, an experienced model. Bowery sat for Freud over the course of two years, as often as five days a week. ‘The bonus is the quietness’, he said of this experience. ‘You get a different sense of yourself. It’s nice to have that level of attention. And a tension.’ By this stage, Freud had started enlarging his paintings as they developed, gaining room to work but also altering the proportions. This one grew more than most: Freud added strips to the side and about a third as much again to the bottom. Bowery is particularly naked, having not only removed all traces of his outrageous costumes, but also all the hair from his body, which he shaved before sitting to Freud. The painter found Bowery’s skin curiously translucent, ‘Like being able to see underneath the carpet’. A photograph of Freud working on this painting is on display in room 18 of Tate Britain, in an exhibition of photographs by Bruce Bernard.