Previously unseen etchings that Lucian Freud rejected or reworked are to be published for the first time as part of a definitive study that will document every print he ever created.
The etchings offer fresh insights into one of the most revered artists of the 20th century, revealing his thinking process and attention to detail.
A charming Christmas card of three boats Freud is thought to have made as a schoolboy and a striking study of a woman’s head that he decided not to publish are among pieces that will appear in the study. Other works in Lucian Freud: Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints, published by Modern Art Press on 24 May, show how Freud, who died in 2011, reworked compositions, erasing and revising areas that he did not like.
Its author, Toby Treves, the Tate’s former collections curator of 20th-century British art, said: “There are a couple of really lovely ones where you wonder why he didn’t publish them because they’re great.”
He singled out, for example, a “really beautiful” study of a head, which may have been inspired by Susanna Chancellor, one of Freud’s former lovers: “It is especially lovely.”
A previously unpublished first state of Freud’s etching of his whippet, Pluto, reveals that it originally featured Chancellor’s entire body. He was dissatisfied with the composition and had the plate cut down, leaving only Pluto sleeping against part of her body.
Unpublished states and trial proofs that preceded the published edition of Reclining Figure, a depiction of the performance artist Leigh Bowery, reveal that Freud had struggled with the foreshortening of the head, erasing and redrawing it and part of the shoulder twice until he reached the final state.
Many of these images were among more than 140 trial proofs amassed by the printmaker Marc Balakjian, who died in 2017, having worked closely with Freud for many years. In 2019, in lieu of estate duty, the collection went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which plans to exhibit some of them next year.
Treves is also co-author, with Catherine Lampert, of Lucian Freud: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, which will be published next year.
He paid tribute to Balakjian’s exceptional knowledge of inks and his sensitive eye for tonal variations: “He was a brilliant master printmaker and Lucian learned a lot from him. Much of what Lucian was able to do with prints later on was because Marc opened up so many more possibilities to him through his technical brilliance. Marc would print off maybe eight or 10 prints, each with a different inking. Then Freud would make his choice, leaving nine, let’s say, that were not to be published … Marc held on to them for reference and, when he died, there they all were.”
The catalogue raisonné will include an essay that Balakjian had been commissioned to write about his collaboration. He described the challenges, including working on Freud’s self-portrait prints: “The first one was a small plate, which he did not like. He scratched scribbling lines on the face to cancel the plate before it was etched.”
Treves said: “One of the really remarkable things is how much care Lucian took over them. With some, he just put in a handful of lines on a plate that may have tens of thousands of lines on it. And yet his eye is so acute that he’s seeing a little weakness there. And he’s right. You see the different states and you can see why he did it.”