Man with a Blue Scarf – Reviews

The Guardian – Jonathan Jones on art blog

30 September 2010

Lucian Freud shines through in Martin Gayford’s portrait of the artist

Man with a Blue Scarf, a book assembled from a sitter’s conversations with Freud, paints a clear picture of a private man

How do we know all this? No, Freud hasn’t started his own blog. Instead, the famously reticent painter imparted these views to a friend, the critic Martin Gayford (who does blog, over at Bloomberg). In his new book, Man with a Blue Scarf, Gayford tells how – having known Freud for years – he finally popped the question: would the greatest living painter of portraits paint his portrait? He was surprised when the answer was yes, and that Freud wanted to get cracking right away.

Lucian Freud has some intriguing opinions about other artists. He has no time for Leonardo da Vinci. He wonders if Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, bought by the National Gallery after a popular campaign, is really by Raphael at all because “normally I can’t bear Raphael, but I like that one a little bit”. His own hero is Titian, whose paintings mean infinitely more to him than the works of Poussin – let alone Vermeer, whose people he thinks bizarrely absent.

Read the full blog post

The Guardian

Frances Spalding is captivated by an inside account of the creation of a Lucian Freud

We learn in this book of an encounter, in a side street in west London, Lucian Freud once had with a very large fox. It turned and glared furiously on hearing his approach. Freud immediately increased his speed and moved closer. The animal, sensing the challenge, whisked away under the gates of a factory. I understand the fox’s nervous apprehension. There is a ferocity in Freud’s gaze that shakes out the information he needs.

Much portraiture offers only a mask – of beauty, power, or professional standing – which the sitter wants to present. Freud strips all this away. Such probing intimacy requires familiarity. Freud not only insists on getting to know his sitters – “If you don’t know them, it can only be like a travel book” – but also keeps his subjects under close observation until they reveal, in his words, “the all without which selection itself is not possible”. To sit for Freud is to receive a phenomenal act of attention.

Martin Gayford is a widely respected art critic, equable and good-looking with a penchant for scarves. He is an unusual sitter for Freud in that most others have come from the extremes of society. But over the course of a decade, professional encounters with this artist have led to friendship, which enabled Gayford tentatively to suggest that if Freud wanted to paint him he could find the time to sit. Expecting a non-committal reply, he was surprised to hear: “Could you manage an evening next week?”

Read the full article on the Guardian website

The Observer

26 September 2010

Martin Gayford creates a portrait of an anarchic painter with views on everything from Leonardo’s failings to Princess Margaret’s voice

There is a comic scene, about halfway through art critic Martin Gayford’s patient account of sitting for Lucian Freud for seven punishing months, when the two men are speeding down Bayswater Road in a taxi. Freud suddenly asks Gayford where he can buy bathroom scales, anxious that he may have gained a pound or two in weight. They are about to reach a luxurious restaurant.

Gayford is taken aback, until the artist explains that every ounce counts when you spend 10 hours a day on your feet darting back and forth before the canvas. It must indeed take stamina, Gayford reflects, to be a truly great painter like Freud. “I suggest John Lewis for the scales.”

Whatever else this book may be – a series of biographical close-ups, a volume of table talk, a portrait of the artist painting a portrait – it is essentially a double act, two men stuck together until the sittings are over and Freud lays down his palette. And no matter how fascinating its revelations of the artist’s working life and his pungent views on painting, what carries the narrative is this dialogue between the two, in which Freud is vividly surprising, potent and dynamic, while Gayford is steadily attentive and respectful, occasionally worrying about his appearance in a mock‑Pooterish manner.

Read the full review on the Guardian website

The Spectator

18 September 2010

Double Exposure – book review by Lloyd Evans

I never thought I’d write these words. This book is unclassifiable. It belongs to a whole new genre. The field of literature has been extended! And I saw it happen.

Martin Gayford, who writes for The Spectator and whom I’ve never met, kept a diary during the seven months he spent sitting for the painter Lucian Freud in 2003/4. The book is a journal, an act of confession, a character study of Freud, a piecemeal survey of art history and an investigation into the practicalities of portraiture. It’s also a hostage drama. Gayford has no idea how many months or years the painting will take, and his abductor-cum-immortaliser asserts his right to abandon the project at any moment, without warning.

Read the full review on the Spectator website

The Independent

17 September 2010

Reviewed by Michael Glover

This is the true story of a man called Martin Gayford, art critic by trade, who sat for a portrait by Lucian Freud seven years ago, told by the man who sat for that portrait over hundreds of hours. It is told in the form of a diary, sitting by sitting, easily, conversationally, insightfully, with a delicate humour, often self-deprecating. The sitter worries about his own ageing, the folds beneath his chin. At one point Freud says: “If it really is like that, well, I’ll use it.” Gayford remarks that he never did find out what “it” was. Freud, slightly dismayingly for the sitter, relishes such exciting evidence of mortality.

The span of time begins in December 2003 and ends in July 2004. In part, it is the story of a collaboration. No subject can be painted with any conviction by Freud unless there is genuine collaboration. Disengagement simply will not do.

Posing, according to this sitter, is somewhere between engaging in transcendental mediation and visiting the barber’s. There is both an element of day-to-day routine, and the serious awareness that each moment of concentrated work – on the part of both sitter and painter- is precious and needs to be worked for.

Read the full review on the Independent website

The Telegraph

9th September 2010

Martin Gayford’s account of sitting for Lucian Freud, Man With A Blue Scarf, may be more artful than the portrait that inspired it, says Martin Herbert

Man with a Blue Scarf, so the jacket copy informs us, is “a book not quite like any previously written”. True enough, bookshelves worldwide do not heave with descriptions of what it’s like to be painted by a great artist. There’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, of course, but whereas the novelist Tracy Chevalier was at liberty to invent, what the art critic Martin Gayford offers is factual – a chronological description of the 40 times he sat for Lucian Freud between November 2003 and July 2004: their conversations, the writer’s inner thoughts. Against the odds, the result is fascinating.

Seen through Gayford’s eyes, painting on this rarefied level might actually be a branch of metaphysics. It’s one thing to be hypersensitive to changing light and colour, to exult over infinitesimal adjustments to a painted ear; quite another, however, to insist on Gayford remaining while Freud fills in the background because “it helps me to understand your head”.

For starters, it provides a forensic record of how our foremost figurative painter worked in his 83rd year. Freud stood at the easel for 10 hours a day, every day, with sitters ranging from a horse to a waitress, breaking only for multiple baths, breakfast and supper at The Wolseley, and sleep.

Read the full review on The Telegraph website

Country Life

8th September 2010

Jeremy Musson welcomes a significant insight into the working practice of one of Britain’s greatest living artists

Lucien Freud is one of our greatest living painters. His portraits and nude studies are some of the most powerful and honest works of art of the late 20th century, and he continues to work vigorously today well into his eighties. In this new book, leading art critic Martin Gayford describes in diary form his sittings for a head-and-shoulders portrait by Mr Freud – he is the ‘man with the blue scarf’. Given the famously private character of the painter, it is a revealing and important account.

…Mr Gayford’s writing has an authority and clarity that matches the nature of this subject – this is a portrait of the artist in words, full of observation about how he looks, sounds, thinks and moves. One wonders how conversations with other sitters who lack the art-historical curiosity of this one must go. Most sitters, however, probably share Mr Gayford’s own experience of self-discover. Mr Freud tells him he looks different every day. ‘More than most people?’ asks Mr Gayford, ‘More than almost anyone I’ve ever encountered. The features don’t change; it’s more the way they are worn.’