Girl with a White Dog by Lucian Freud

Girl with a White Dog by Lucian Freud (1950-51)

A few days ago I visited my two children in London and went on a few gallery visits.  I had managed to get tickets for my daughter and myself for the David Hockney Exhibition at the Royal Academy which was really a great experience and one which everybody should try and get to.  I will feature a painting from the exhibition later this week.  The other exhibition I had wanted to see and which had just opened was an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s Portraits which was being held at the National Portrait Gallery.  Unfortunately I could not get a ticket for the days I was in the capital so I have booked to go next month.  Today I am going to look at one of my favourite paintings of his entitled Girl with a White Dog, which he completed in 1951.  First let me tell you a little about Lucian’s early life and that of the sitter for this painting, his first wife, Kathleen Garman and look back on the famous, or maybe I should say, infamous Garman sisters.

Lucian Freud, who is the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, was born in Berlin in 1922.  His father, Ernst Freud, an Austrian Jew, was an architect and his mother Lucie (née Brach) was the daughter of a grain merchant.  On the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933, Lucian and his parents moved to Britain and lived in a house in St John’s Wood, London.  During his school years, he attended Dartington Hall Boarding School in Totnes Devon.    This was, at the time, an unusual seat of education.  It was a very progressive establishment in which there was a minimum of formal classroom activity and the children learnt by involvement in estate activities. From there he attended the Bryanston Independent School in Dorset.

In 1939 he became a British national and that year he enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design, which fifty years later would merge with the St Martins School of Art and become, as we know it today, the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, which is widely regarded as one of the leading Art and Design institutions in the world.  His stay at the college was only brief as he moved on to the Cedric Morris’ East Anglican School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham.  This was a far more radical establishment which gave free rein to its students.  The school was destroyed by fire and a new location for the school was established in Benton End on the outskirts of Hadleigh in the county of Sussex.

Lucian Freud served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941 before being invalided out of service in 1942.  From 1942 to 1943 he attended Goldsmiths, University of London, an establishment which specialises in the arts, humanities and social sciences.  At the age of 24, Freud began his European travels, painting in France and Greece.  Some of his early work had already been published in the Horizon arts magazine and in 1944 the Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery in London staged the first solo exhibition of his paintings.

In 1948 Lucian married Kitty Garman, the subject of today’s featured painting.   Kitty was the second illegitimate child of the distinguished British sculptor, Jacob Epstein’s and his lover Kathleen Garman.  Jacob Epstein and his wife Margaret (née Dunlop) did not have any children of their own but they looked after a young girl, Peggy Jean, the product of Jacob Epstein’s earlier affair with Dorothy (Meum) Lindsell Stewart.  Margaret Epstein and the young girl lived across London with Jacob, while Kathleen Garman lived with her younger sister, Helen, in an unheated studio in Bloomsbury and her and Jacob’s infant son, Theo.    Margaret Epstein was aware of her husband’s affair with Kathleen Garman and despite her husband’s numerous previous affairs with women which never lasted, she felt threatened by Kathleen.  She realised that Kathleen was more than a lover, she was almost a  parallel wife. From the beginning, Mrs Epstein disliked her intensely, realising  that she would be her greatest rival.   It came to a head in 1923 when according to Cressida Connolly in her book The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans:

“…Mrs Epstein took Kathleen into a room and locked the door before producing a pearl-handled pistol from under her capacious skirts… and shot her. The bullet hit Kathleen just to the right of her left shoulder blade, whereupon Mrs Epstein panicked and ran out of the room, leaving the bloodied Kathleen to stagger out into the street alone…”

Jacob Epstein visited Kathleen in hospital and paid her medical bills. The bullet wound to her shoulder left  a large scar and Kathleen Garman was never afterwards able to wear sleeve-less dresses. To protect the reputation of Jacob Epstein, Kathleen Garman refused to press charges against his wife.

Despite this incident and the pleadings of his wife, Epstein refused to give up Kathleen, who remained in her one-room London studio as Epstein’s lover and bore him three illegitimate children; a son, Theo, in 1924, and two daughters,  Kitty in 1926 and Esther in 1929.  Epstein had another affair with one of his students, Isabel Nicholas, and this resulted in the birth of a son Jackie in 1934.  Isabel gave up her son to the Epsteins and he was also looked after by Margaret Epstein.   Kathleen Garman never knew about Epstein’s parallel affair with Isabel or about the boy Jackie until several years later.

The cramped conditions of the studio Kathleen Garman was living in proved unsuitable for bringing up young children and Kitty was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Margaret (née Magill), in Herefordshire.  Esther, the youngest daughter was later dispatched to a family friend.   Kitty Garman stayed on with her grandmother Margaret when the household moved to South Harting, Sussex, and only went back to live with her mother in London when she was in her late teens.  She then enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts to study painting under Bernard Meninsky. According to Kitty, her mother was constantly critical of her artistic efforts. Kitty recalled her mother’s attitude:

 “…I think she wanted her daughters to excel, but she didn’t want us to succeed, because she had to be the queen.   I was frightened of her because of her temper and she did say searingly sarcastic things…”

In 1949, Epstein’s wife, Margaret fractured her skull in a fall on the steps of her home and died.  This allowed Kathleen Garman to move into Epstein’s home in Hyde Park Gate.

By the early 1950’s Kitty Garman’s marriage to Lucian was in trouble and it ended abruptly after the artist’s affair with the society girl and writer Lady Caroline Blackwood was exposed.        Kitty Garman’s marriage to Lucian Freud ended in divorce in 1952 and Lady Caroline Blackwood became his second wife in 1957.  Shortly after the ending of her marriage to Lucian, Kitty was at a party where she met Wynne Godley, and economist, whom she married in 1955.

Lucian Michael Freud died aged 89 on July 20th 2011.  His first wife and sitter for today’s painting, Kathleen (Kitty) Eleonara Wishart (née Godley, née Freud) died aged 74 on January 11th 2011.

Kitty Garman, a brunette, was by all accounts, hauntingly beautiful and the subject of many paintings.  My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Girl with a White Dog which Lucian Freud commenced in 1950 and  completed in 1951.  When not lent out to external exhibitions this work of art resides at the Tate Britain Gallery, London.  This is the last of the series of portraits of his first wife, Kitty, which Freud had started at the end of the 1940’s.  Kitty had given birth to Lucian and her first child, Annie in 1948 and their second child Annabel was born in 1952, the year the painting was purchased by the Tate.

One can only marvel at the way Freud has handled the contrast of the fabrics and textures.  On the one hand we have the smooth white hairs of the dog and on the other hand we have the fuller texture of the yellow dressing gown, which contrasts also with the smoothness of the  striped silk bedspread on which she sits.    In the painting we see Kitty Garman sitting curled up on what looks like a low settee dressed in a dressing gown with its long plaited and tasselled tie.   Lying next to her, with its head in her lap, is one of a pair of white bull terriers the couple were given as a wedding present.  Look at the wonderful amount of detail Freud has put into his depiction of the dog.  He would often use animals in his compositions and often they would feature both pet and owner.

Kitty left hand hangs down and her fingers rest on the settee and on one of the fingers  we can see her wedding ring.   Her right hand is pressed against the bathrobe, cupping her left breast.  Her right arm is strategically placed under her right breast with her wrist adding to its uplift and fullness.  Her expression is difficult to translate.  She seems somewhat frightened and concerned about something.  Her eyes are large and staring.  In some ways we feel a little uncomfortable when we look at her.  Her brow is narrow which adds to her look of anxiety and sadness.  It could well be that Freud’s liaison with Caroline Blackwood at the time of this painting was taking a toll on Kitty.  Is her look one of calmness or one of desolation?  I will let you decide.