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'Interior at Paddington' (1951), by Lucian Freud


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About the artwork

What does this picture mean? It is called ‘Interior at Paddington’ and sometimes ‘Interior Near Paddington’. The title seems deliberately to diminish the significance of the human content that is so prominent in the painting. It is as though the figure of Harry Diamond is regarded as less important than the overall containing room in which he stands. What also seems likely is that the painting was meant to have an air of menace and uncertainty.

The pose that Harry Diamond adopts it in essence a mirror-image of the famous aggressive pose that was commonly used by Holbein for his full-length portraits of Henry VIII (one such portrait of Henry VIII can be seen in Room 1 in the Walker). However instead of carrying gloves to betoken elegance Harry Diamond has a cigarette in one hand and his clenched fist is heavily nicotine stained. Instead of a rich velvet fur trimmed and silk-embroidered cloak he wears a drab dirty mackintosh. Freud's forthright and slightly seedy figure contrasts with the regal pedigree of the pose.

Other quotations from famous past pictures also suggest themselves. The positioning of the window and balcony are redolent of several paintings made by Henri Matisse showing his Paris studio and the exterior glimpsed view from this studio off the bank of the River Seine in Paris looking towards the Isle de la Cite.

The figure leaning against a wall outside invites speculation as to its significance. Is he in some way connected with the events that are taking place in the room?

The dominant positioning of the plant in the picture and the fact that Harry Diamond appears to be staring at it and almost squaring-up to it for a fight again leaves the viewer struggling for meaning. Such ambiguity and uncertainty on the part of the spectator may well have been part of Freud’s strategy for the picture and its reception.

Freud's paint surface is distinctive - matt and unglossy - more like gouache than oil. There is a flat look to many of the passages of paint and he has used a rather hard circumscribing line to describe figure and objects. Nowadays he uses a much richer variety of often thick paint - evocative of Rubens or Constable - rather than say, as here, Mantegna. Overall the tone of the picture is cool - almost cold.

Harry Diamond came to Liverpool in 1979 and was commissioned to take various photographs of the city. While he was here he spoke to members of the gallery staff about the circumstances surrounding Freud's painting of this picture. His principal complaint was that he had been required by Freud to stand posing for six months.

Compare this painting to Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII in this online feature.

Lucian Freud, born in Germany in 1922, is the grandson of Sigmund Freud the great psychoanalyst. Because they were Jews several members of the Freud family were forced to flee Germany during the 1930s in order to escape persecution by the German government. Freud grew up in England and has remained here ever since. Now in his eighty-second year he has a worldwide reputation, his paintings command very high prices and his pictures are much exhibited in one-man and group shows in many countries. Some consider him Britain’s greatest living artist. This picture painted in 1950 - 51 was his first large-scale painting and his first major public commission.

This picture was commissioned in 1951 in connection with The Festival of Britain in 1951.

In order to celebrate the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and in part simply to have a celebration of national recovery from the Second World War the government decided to hold a festival centred on a site on the South bank of the River Thames. The site is now partly occupied by the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall and other buildings. The Arts Council of Great Britain invited a selected group of 60 artists to produce a painting each for inclusion in a projected national touring exhibition. Freud was one of those selected. During 1951 the pictures travelled throughout Britain. Typically the exhibition stayed in a location for about one month. The tour included Liverpool where, in September 1951, the pictures were shown at the Walker. Other places that the exhibition visited included Leicester, Bristol, Norwich, Plymouth, Leeds, Brighton, York, and Preston. This painting was one of five pictures from the group of 60 that were selected for purchase by the Arts Council. £500 was paid for it. In November 1951 it was offered to the Walker as a gift along with a statue by Jacob Epstein that had been on show at the South Bank. The gift was intended to celebrate the reopening and refurbishing of the gallery in 1951 after 12 years of closure. Freud’s picture was accepted by the gallery but the statue was declined and another statue chosen in its place.

The man in the picture is Harry Diamond, a friend of Freud’s who worked at scene-shifting and various other odd jobs and subsequently, in the 1960s, became a photographer. He modelled for this and another smaller picture that is now in the University of Liverpool collections. The setting is a room in Paddington, which at the time was a rundown part of London and where an artist could rent or buy space cheaply in order to set up a studio. The view out of the window is towards a wall that borders the Grand Union Canal. In front of the wall is a small boy staring towards the open window. The red carpet (which in reality had a pattern) was bought by Freud in a junk shop in the Harrow Road. The large plant is of a type related to the yucca.