One day, my Editor walks in with a man. “This is Martin Gayford,” she says. We smile politely in acknowledgement.
“Do you know the man with a blue scarf?” she adds.
“Oh yes! The Lucian Freud portrait!” I jump up and shake his hand like, I am embarrassed to recall, some kind of sycophant.
Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud is an autobiographical recollection of art critic and curator Martin Gayford’s experience sitting for a painting Lucian Freud between winter 2003 and summer 2004, and then again for an etching a year later.
The book is as much a portrait of Freud as it is about a portrait of Gayford. Entire conversations are meticulously documented about the painter’s artistic process, his favourite (and disliked) works by other artists and memories from his youth, including his thoughts on his infamous contemporary, Francis Bacon. The tone of the book is engaging and conversational, while at the same time shedding new light on Freud’s working style: what he’ll admit to, what he won’t, and what can only be observed by an outsider, like our narrator-sitter. All this, of course, relies heavily on Gayford’s memory and honesty.
There is no doubt that this is a heavily edited memoir: there is no mention of Freud’s first wife, Kitty Garman, or Bernardine Coverley, the mother of his daughter Bella Freud – though Bella herself is mentioned twice. There are, however, numerous mentions of his second wife Caroline Blackwood. Similarly, there is only one reference to photographer John Deakin, but many of Francis Bacon, though the three were mutually influential to each others’ (early) works and social lives. On the one hand, it is refreshing to read a book on Freud without the gossip of his personal life; on the other hand, the lack of controversy smacks of censorship.
While fascinating and insightful, Man with a Blue Scarf is heavily watered down: Freud is presented as a likeable genius, removed from the drama that normally surrounds his life and personality – which is, without doubt, an incomplete picture of the artist.