$6.3m Boy's Head portrait by Lucian Freud stands above the rest at Sotheby's

Sotheby's has announced that its Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Thursday, October 13, 2011, will be headlined by Boy's Head of 1952 by Lucian Freud (1922-2011) depicting Charlie Lumley, one of Freud's most immediately recognisable subjects from this seminal early period in his oeuvre.

This oil on canvas transmits a remarkable psychological intensity that is exemplary of the artist's sensational powers of observation and is estimated at £3-4m ($6.3m). The work measures 21.6cm by 15.9cm and comes to market from a private collection.

Discussing this work and its auction sale, Oliver Barker, Deputy Chairman Sotheby's Europe and Senior International Specialist in the Contemporary Art Department, explained:

"This portrait was executed at the beginning of the 1950s when Freud was recognised as one of the leading artistic talents of his generation and even amid the artist's epic oeuvre, spanning seven full decades, the present work is a perfect visual example of Freud's titanic output.

"The young sitter, Charlie Lumley, is subjected to the unyielding dissection of Freud's gaze in this masterful zenith of his painterly analysis, which has become the stuff of legend. We expect this oil on canvas to generate tremendous interest among the collecting community."

In 1943 Freud moved from Abercorn Place to a flat by the Regent's Canal in Delamere Terrace, Paddington and described the areas as "…extreme and I was conscious of this. A completely unresidential area with violent neighbours. There was a sort of anarchic element of no one working for anyone...".

Among his neighbours were the brothers Billy and Charlie Lumley, with whom the artist forged a close friendship.

In an interview with Michael Macaulay, Sotheby's Deputy Director and Contemporary Art Specialist, Charlie Lumley discussed sitting for Lucian Freud and how their friendship began:

"Well, we used to live in Delamere Terrace, that's on the other side of Little Venice, you know?  Well it's all pulled down now, but both houses were old Victorian houses with big balconies out the front and columns from the steps.

"Well we never had keys, me and my brothers, so to get in we used to have to climb up this pole, next to the pillar, onto the balcony and into the front window.

And next door, the other side there lived a greengrocer, and he'd retired, and he used to sit out on the balcony all the time. And every time I used to climb up there I used to hear this deep voice murmuring 'Bloody cat burglar!' And Lu moved in next door to me, and he heard this.

He moved in and I went up onto the balcony, and he was standing there with John Craxton, and that's when we first met."

Lucian Freud Boys Head contemporary art
Lucian Freud's startling work Boy's Head

Enclosed within the glassy marbles of the boy's eyes, his depthless black pupils and serene grey-blue irises emit a hypnotic intensity that pierces out to confront and transfix the viewer.

The features of the boy are physically and compositionally held in place by the palm of his left hand, which buttresses against his cheek and jaw bones. The drooping flesh of the boy's ample cheek is pulled taught by his hand, stretching the mouth open to bare the pearly young teeth below.

This remarkably observed detail accentuates dramatically the psychosomatic character of the sitter. The artist's careful selection of a focused scale, consistent with works of this period, is here fundamental to its impact as it enables the maximum exertion of control over the subject.

Most comparable is the legendary painting Francis Bacon of 1952, which was completed over two to three months. Boy's Head is extant counterpart to that masterpiece, providing another side of Freud's incomparable interpretation of the human animal.

The Contemporary Art Evening Auction also includes other important works by Lucian Freud, including his Untitled (foliage), 1953, estimated at £400,000-600,000 and his Interior Drawing, The Owl, 1945, estimated at £300,000-400,000


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