Cameron Woo | July 27, 2011
How would you like a Lucian Freud painting on the cover of The Bark? Our foreign correspondent, Susie Green, posed us the question in the fall of 2002. With the passing of the artist Lucian Freud last week, I recalled our brief but lasting encounter with the legendary painter and the beautiful portraits of his dogs Eli and Pluto. They are among the most magnificent paintings made in recent history. A Lucian Freud painting on the cover of The Bark?—By all means, yes! We were in the midst of planning for our holiday issue, and Christmas had come early.
Freud was preparing for a historic retrospective at London’s Tate Gallery, organized by his friend and critic, William Feaver. It turned out that our reporter Susie and the painter frequented the same pub, and she thought he might be sympathetic to Bark’s take on dog art and culture. The connection led to Feaver, who found our publication to his liking, and graciously arranged permission to publish a new painting by Freud of his Whippet, Eli. We were astounded at our good fortune. It debuted in America on our cover, while hanging in the Tate, still wet from its recent creation.
Inside the issue we published a selection of Freud’s portraits—his earliest painting of a dog from 1951-52 entitled Girl with a White Dog (which we caught some heat from because of its partial nudity), and double and triple portraits featuring his beloved Whippets, Eli and Pluto with human companions. Plus, a photo of the real Eli, standing next to his painted portrait. “I’m really interested in people as animals,’ Freud told Feaver. ‘Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more and it’s also very exciting to see the forms repeating through the body and often the head as well. I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet.”
v This vulnerability, and nakedness—emotionally and physically are defining elements in Freud’s work. His paintings are honest, unflinching portraits of humanity, and on special occasions, dogdom. His rare ability to capture the physical and psychological presence of his models, and his sensual way with paint, thick and sculptural, inspired the critic Robert Hughes to proclaim him “the greatest living realist painter.”
We were thus honored by Lucian Freud’s Eli gracing The Bark. Besides this lovely cover, his contribution to our magazine also opened the door to other artists, galleries and museums—what a calling card we now held—to say that Lucian Freud had appeared in The Bark. We will always be thankful for his generosity, and the privilege to share his paintings with our readers.