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Beyond Process

Between November 2003 and April 2005, British art critic Martin Gayford sat for two Lucian Freud portraits, one in oil, the other one etched. Man with a Blue Scarf, On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud serves as a record of Gayford’s thoughts about being a part of Freud’s process. Because the two men spent so much time with one another over this period, and because they were friends to begin with, a great deal of the book is anecdotal. We learn that Freud likes to dine with his sitters after a night session; he attends Kate Moss’s birthday party; and enjoys the privilege of being able to meander through the National Gallery whenever the spirit strikes him.

What really makes this book work, though, is how Gayford is taken out of the critic’s role and fused into part of a master’s process. As the seasons change, he must maintain the same outfit he wore during his first sitting. With Freud finally moving from Gayford’s head to his shoulders the blue scarf finally comes into play. But something is not right. The blue Freud had mixed based on his initial impression of the scarf does not seem right now and it derails the session. At home that night, Gayford relates this to his wife, who asks him which blue scarf he had worn. Unbeknown to Gayford, he in fact owns two blue scarves, each one a slightly different shade. Gayford had never noticed but Freud had, months earlier.

Man with a Blue Scarf is full of such peeks into the mind of an extraordinary artist without discussion of Freud’s process intimating that you too can do what he does. Peppered with plenty of illustrations referencing Frued’s work and the work of artists he and Gayord discuss, this book counts among the best and most memorable books I read in 2010.

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