Head and Shoulders of a Girl

Lucian Freud

This large scale etching, virtually life size, was made by Lucian Freud after his major painting of the same subject titled Lying by the Rags, 1988-89 (illustrated below) which is in the Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo, Norway. The sitter, artist Sophie de Stempel, is the subject of another major, related work, Standing by the Rags, 1989 – 90 in the collection of Tate Gallery, London. In both paintings, the full length model stands or lies before a large mound of cloths, her body, the cloth and the floorboards all painted with equally piercing scrutiny. The oil paintings are quintessential examples of Freud’s ‘Naked Portraits’ a term he purposely uses to avoid any sense of an idealistic notion of a contrived human beauty.

As Starr Figura writes in her insightful catalogue, which accompanied a major retrospective of the artist’s etchings in 2007 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York:

‘Commonly viewed from an unusual vantage point, the angular limbs, foreshortened faces, and tortured body language rebuke the tradition of the ideal nude. Indeed, by deliberately referring to his depictions as ‘Naked Portraits’, Freud consciously distinguishes his works from venerable ‘nudes’ and emphasises the rawness that is central to his vision. The location is always Freud’s studio – a reference to the artist’s own world rather than any mythical or symbolic setting. “I am only interested in painting the actual person; in doing a painting of them, not in using them to some ulterior end of art”, he has stated. “For me, to use someone doing something not native to them would be wrong.” Ignoring whatever taboos regarding the body that may persist today, Freud means for his works to “astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.” Their strangeness comes, as Robert Hughes has written, ‘in large part from their making: they bypass decorum while fiercely preserving respect’.1

When creating this etching Freud focused in, removing the padding of the cloths and the surface of the floorboards to construct a powerful composition, suspending the upper torso, head and shoulders of the model. Unlike the printmaking method of many other artists, Freud’s etchings are neither preparatory works for canvases nor are they merely reproductions of existing images. Instead, as Figura points out, ‘...etching is a medium that parallels painting for Freud, an extension of the habit of revisiting sitters that he has always enjoyed in painting. But shifting his means from painterly to linear involves an adjustment not just in manner of execution, but also in conception and perception, a refreshing shift that, he has said, forces him to concentrate more on form than on surface’.2

1. Figura, S., Lucian Freud: The Painter’s Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007, pp. 23–24
2. Ibid., p. 14

The scratches in the area round the figure add physicality to the surface on which the girl lies and to the highlights on her skin. Stopping-out has been used to create the dotted effect on the side of the face. In terms of plate size, Head and Shoulders of a Girl returns to the large format Freud first used in 1985. Hereafter, he would frequently make prints on this scale. The plate was bitten and first proofed on 23 April 1990.

Examples of this work are held in several important collections including the Tate Gallery, London (31/50); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (30/50); National Gallery of Art, Washington (32/50); Milwaukee Art Museum (46/50); MoMA, New York (18/50); Ferens Art Gallery, Hull (25/50); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (27/50); Fundación Museos Nacionales - Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Caracas (AP unnumbered); Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow (35/50)

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)
Head and Shoulders of a Girl
Etching on Somerset Satin White paper
30 ½ x 25 in : 77.4 x 63.5 cm
Frame Size
34 ¼ x 28 ¼ in : 87.0 x 72.0 cm
From the edition of 50
Signed and numbered by the artist
Marc Balakjian at Studio Prints, London
Brooke Alexander Inc., New York, and James Kirkman, London
James Kirkman, London
Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Darren Knight Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney, since 1996
Hartley 1991A, unpaginated, Hartley 1992, pp. 3, 5, fig. 7, no. 41; Hartley 1995, pp. 20-1, no. 41, illus.; Hartley 1999, no. 54, Kernan 1999, p. 41; Wilcox 1999, pp. 52, 57; Hartley 2001, pp. 209-10, 219; Hartley 2004, pp. 19-20; Figura 2007, Pp. 24-5, pl. 32; Hartley 2013, pp. 61-3; Treves 2022, pp. 166-7, no. 60, illus.
Nishimura Gallery, Tokyo, 1991, no. 36, cat. illus.
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London, 1991, no. 36, cat. illus.
British Council, 1991-92, touring exh., Italy and UK, no. 78, cat. illus.
Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, 1992
British Council, 1992-93, touring exh., Japan and Australia, in Japan no. 71, in Australia no. 66, cat. illus.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1993-94, touring exh., UK, USA and Spain (USA only), no. 61, cat. illus. (UK catalogue only)
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 1993-94, cat. illus.
Galleria Ceribelli, Bergamo, 1994-95, touring exh.
Marlborough Graphics, London, 1995
Davis & Langdale Company, New York, 1996, no. 20
Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, 1996, no. 28, cat. illus.
Tel Aviv Museum, of Art, 1996-97, no. 37, cat. illus.
Pollock Gallery, Dallas, 1998, no. 11, cat. illus.
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1999-2000, touring exh., USA, no. 28, cat. illus.
Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2000-01, no. 35, cat. illus.
Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Australia, 2003, no. 11
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in association with Marlborough Graphics, London, 2004-05, touring exh., no. 33
Museo Correr, Venice, 2005, no. 40, cat. illus.
Faggionato Fine Art, New York, 2005
Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007-08, no number, cat. illus.
Galerie Daniel Blau, Munich, 2011, no number, cat. illus. p.55
Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, 2013-14, no number,
Galerie Boisserée, Cologne, 2013
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleback, 2015, no. 28,
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 2017, no. 28
Related works
Lucian Freud, Lying by the Rags, Oil on canvas, 1988–89, Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo, Norway
Other impressions from this edition are in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Milwaukee Art Museum; MoMA, New York
A21-67 / C16-36
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