Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


(1922 – 2011, British)

etching on Somerset textured white paper

59.5 x 43.0 cm (image), 76.0 x 57.5 cm (sheet)

edition: 11/46

signed with initials and numbered below image
proofed and printed by Marc Balakjian at Studio Prints, London
published by Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

$28,000 – 38,000

Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Lucian Freud – Etchings, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 11 November – 23 December 2000, cat. 36 (another example)
Sean Scully, Alun Leach-Jones, Lucian Freud, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 7 September – 2 October 2004
Melbourne Art Fair, Melbourne, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, 29 September – 4 October 2004
Lucian Freud, The Painter's Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 16 December 2007 – 10 March 2008, cat. 79 (another example)
Lucian Freud: Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 9 February – 27 May 2012 (another example)


Hartley, C., Lucian Freud: Recent Etchings 1995-1999, Marlborough Graphics, London, 1999, no. 59 (illus. another example)
Marks, M. (ed.), Lucian Freud Etchings – with Esther Freud's "Ode to Pluto", Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 2000, cat. 36 (illus. another example)
Feaver, W., Lucian Freud, Tate Publishing, London, 2002, no. 300 (illus. another example)
Figura, S., Lucian Freud, The Painter's Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, pp. 30, 109, pl. 79 (illus. another example)
Smee, S., Lucian Freud 1996-2005, Jonathan Cape, London, 2009, no. 42 (illus. another example)
Howgate, S., Lucian Freud Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2012, p. 195 (illus. another example)

Catalogue text

Lucian Freud was unique, with the exception of a handful of illustrious forbears, including Rembrandt and Pablo Picasso, in having created a printed oeuvre of comparable quality to his famous paintings. This is perhaps Freud’s most remarkable achievement, providing insight into the breadth of his distinctive practice. Freud appreciated the technical difficulty of etching, in particular the spatial difficulty of creating a negative image, reveling in its ‘element of danger and mystery. You don’t know how it’s going to come out’1. The importance of Freud’s printed works on paper has been the subject of recent art historical investigation, leading to a large temporary exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2007. Head of Ali, 1999, was chosen to appear amongst the etchings presented in this survey show.

Head of Ali is an etching that was preceded by a painted portrait of the same subject – in this case The Painter’s Son, Ali, 1998, held within a private collection. As a printmaker, Freud often revisited previous sitters and painted scenes, exploring these painted works through alternative points of view. Focusing on form rather than surface, Freud’s etchings grew with lines of varied weight and intersecting cross-hatched planes. This work bears the trace of Freud’s hand more clearly than many of his paintings, the deep relief of the young man’s face placed against a background striated with shallow nicks. This plate has not been wiped clean, preserving instead a pale grey film of plate tone for the final print. Each line etched by Freud in the surface of the copper plate is indelible, the artist’s cumulative revisions and experimentations all apparent in the final impression of each work. The multiple lines and varied textures of Freud’s etchings create an effect of heightened psychological intensity and intimacy, quite different to the awkward, fleshy grandeur of his painted portraits.

Head of Ali is a commanding example of both Freud’s mature copper-plate etchings and of his quintessential ‘portrait heads’, a genre specific to the artist. A portrait of one of the artist’s sons, this etching belongs to a small group of iconic male portraits of close friends and family created between 1998 and 1999.2 The late artist’s preference for models drawn from his small circle of acquaintances is now widely known, with Freud’s creative process ultimately dictated by the success of his personal interaction with the model/sitter. Each artwork may be understood as a summation of this lengthy and highly subjective experience, presented through the eyes of one participant in an intimate and private exchange.

1. Freud, L., in conversation with S. Figura, 21 March 2007, quoted in Figura, S., Lucian Freud, The Painter’s Etchings, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, p. 15
2. The other two in this series being David Dawson, 1998, and Head of an Irishman, 1999, see: Figura, S., ibid, p. 30