London: British artists Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon had been friends for decades before a bitter falling out.

Now a new exhibition explores the couple’s friendship with two other influential painters with whom they shared role models, rivalries and a belief in portraiture in 1950s and 1960s London.

Freud’s first wife, Caroline Blackwood, said of Bacon that he came to dinner “almost every night for more or less my entire marriage to Lucian”.

“We also had lunch,” she added. But while their friendship is well-documented, the lesser-known relationship the couple had with two other artists – Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews – was equally important, said exhibition curator Richard Calvocoressi.

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The four friends and rivals sat, painted and spent time together in central London’s Soho district.

Freud and Auerbach also shared a common history, having both fled Nazi Germany as children.

‘Friends and Relations’, which opens Thursday at Gagosian Gallery in central London and runs until January 28, is inspired by a famous black and white photograph of the four artists taken in 1963 by John Deakin.

Radical artists

The men are pictured with much younger painter Timothy Behrens at a restaurant in Soho.

“I thought it would be interesting to watch him (Freud) in the context of those close friends,” Calvocoressi told AFP.

The four painters “saw each other a lot in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I think they found the conventions of figurative painting tired and needed rejuvenation and refreshing and that’s what they did, and over the course of half a century they stuck to the human figure as the central subject of their art,” he said. said.

A highlight of the exhibition is Andrews’ “The Colony Room I” group portrait of Freud, Bacon, and the artist’s model Henrietta Moraes, among others, at the famous drinking club which was a favorite hangout.

Calvocoressi said Soho and the British capital, where everyone had made their home, was another recurring theme in the exhibition, with works such as the rubbish-strewn view of Freud’s studio and a painting of Primrose Hill by Auerbach. .

The exhibition features over 40 paintings from private and public collections, including many of the artists’ portraits of each other.

Calvocoressi said the quartet “fired up” and were “the most radical” of their generation of artists.

‘Perfected’ nudes

“They were always talking about art…they were kind of a distinct group” at a time when people were moving into other artistic streams such as pop, conceptual and minimalist art, he said .

“I think that after the last war… and the revelations of everything that happened in Nazi-occupied Europe and the death camps, a lot of painters lost faith in humanity and in the painting.

“How do you repaint a human being after he’s done something like that?”

But the four London painters “stayed true to their interest in the human form”, and Freud in particular “perfected the nude portrait more than the others”, he says.

The “relationships” featured in the exhibit include spouses, lovers, role models, children, and parents.

“Portrait of Man Walking Down Steps” is Bacon’s tribute to his lover George Dyer who committed suicide in 1971.

“Nude Portrait on a Red Sofa” shows the daughter of Freud’s fashion designer, Bella.

The work painted in 1989/91 when Bella was in her late twenties has been described by her friend, photographer Bruce Bernard, as one of her “boldest and most sensitive works”.

Of the four artists, only Auerbach, now 91, is still alive. Bacon died in 1992, Andrews in 1995 and Freud in 2011.

Auerbach still paints and during the pandemic, deprived of models, turned to self-portraits.