Kitty, the daughter of Jacob Epstein and Kathleen Garman, reappears in Lucian Freud’s portraits over the course of five years – clutching a kitten, head under leaves or on the pillow – but from the outset 'Girl with Roses' establishes a scale and ambition that is life-size. She and Freud married in February 1948, and in the same year, Freud spent a whole train journey with Pablo Picasso’s 'Weeping Woman' (1937), taking it down to Brighton for an exhibition. Picasso wrenches the woman’s head apart, as if viewing her from inside out, through her own tears; Freud answers this visual outburst by observing how emotion manifests itself on the outside. Newly pregnant, Kitty sits stiffly, her eyes averted in a dead stare. She clutches a rose, and another lies limp in her lap. A yellow-pink breed, renamed the ‘Peace Rose’ at the end of the war, it is more than the traditional love token and, like the glimmer of Kitty’s teeth, adds a hint of menace. Titian’s fleshy 'Venus of Urbino' (1538) is recast for a cold climate of woollies and rations. Kitty’s grip on the rose is matched by Freud’s grip on the brush. Lawrence Gowing infers a kind of passive purity in Freud’s early style – the linearity, thin application of paint and cool palette – and applauds its ‘homogenous, even legibility and a sea-washed cleanliness’, yet here the subject’s vitality is picked out with needling precision. From the stray curls across the forehead to the tweezered eyebrows, the reflection of a sash window in each eye, the frayed cane of the chair and the birthmark on the raised hand, ultimately the ‘girl’ of the title becomes Kitty in the definite article. Freud explains, ‘I was trying for accuracy of a sort. I didn’t think of it as detail. It was simply, through my concentration, a question of focus. I always felt that detail – where one was conscious of detail – was detrimental.’ For a full painting description on the British Council’s website please click on the link below under ‘More on this painting’
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