Previously unseen painting of the woman who broke Lucian Freud's heart

Paintings of British artist's second wife Caroline Blackwood goes on show

Matilda Battersby
Friday 05 June 2015 10:17 BST
The Sisters, 1950, by Lucian Freud
The Sisters, 1950, by Lucian Freud

An exhibition in tribute to the second wife of Lucian Freud, Caroline Blackwood, the only woman believed to have broken the lothario artist's heart, will include a portrait never exhibited in this country dating from the early days of their relationship.

Caroline Blackwood, the daughter of a Marquess and heiress to the Guinness beer fortune, eloped to Paris with Freud when she was just 22. The subject of one his most famous works, Girl in Bed, 1952, the strikingly beautiful writer became a leading light of the Bohemian Fifties arts scene.

The Sisters a portrait of Caroline’s right eye in close up, was last exhibited in Robert Miller’s New York gallery in 1994 before disappearing into a private collection for twenty years.

Girl in Bed by Lucian Freud

One of a pair, it was intended to hang alongside a portrait of Caroline’s sister Perdita’s eye.

“[Freud] decided to do a big portrait of both sisters and the eye was the beginning of that portrait,” explains gallery owner Pilar Ordovas.

“He painted one of each of their eyes and decided to stop there. Caroline had the most enormous eyes. If you look at photographs, her eyes dominated her whole face.”

Dating from 1950, The Sisters was painted soon after Freud, 28, and a then 18-year-old Caroline met at a London ball.

Freud would have been newly separated from his first wife Kitty, the daughter of Kathleen Garman and Jacob Epstein, when Caroline moved into his Paddington studio and became the subject of several of his notable works. The couple moved to Paris for a year and were married at Chelsea Register Office in London in 1953.

Caroline, who became a successful journalist and novelist, most notably for The Stepdaughter, once wrote of their relationship: “I had dinner with [Francis Bacon] nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian,” adding that their London existence was “a whole kind of Soho life: going out Wheeler’s, and then the Colony and the Gargoyle, was the thing with that crowd.”

Girl Reading by Lucian Freud

When Girl in Bed and Girl Reading were first exhibited they were condemned by critics as an aggressive and brutal portrayal of such a beautiful young girl; some people couldn’t understand why she was made to look so old. But history would be kinder to the portraits of Caroline and they are now seen as among the great British painter’s most tender works.

Girl by the Sea, 1956, Freud’s last portrait of Caroline, which was only recently identified as having been painted in Pedregalejo near Malaga, Spain, was completed shortly before his tendency for gambling and recklessness led to the breakup of their marriage.

Freud was said to have been devastated after Caroline left him, drinking heavily and getting into fights. His many friends, including Bacon, revealed in letters that they feared he would take his life.

Both Freud and Caroline went on to have other relationships: she married the famous composer Israel Citkowitz and later the poet Robert Lowell who documented their relationship in his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, The Dolphin.

Girl by the Sea, by Lucian Freud

Freud never remarried but had a number of children with other women, including Suzy Boyt, Katherine Margaret McAdam and Bernadine Coverley. The artist has at least 12 recognised children but is rumoured (probably grossly inaccurately) to have had as many as forty offspring.

“The couple stayed in touch even after the divorce. When Caroline was on her death bed she phoned him up and they had a last goodbye. They had remained friends,” Ordovas said.

Girl by Lucian Freud is at the Ordovas gallery, London, from tomorrow

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