According to the great 19th-century draughtsman Jean-Auguste Ingres, “Drawing is the probity of art.” This aphorism has been put to the test recently by the noise surrounding the graphic work of Lucian Freud and Tracey Emin. For Emin, the recently appointed Royal Academy Professor of Drawing and poster designer for the 2012 Olympics, probity — such as it is — resides in a drawing’s expressive qualities and not in its craft. For Freud without craft there was no expression.
Emin’s drawings are characterised by a wobbly line, pictorial messiness and simplistic design. They are appropriate to a solipsistic artist who never seeks to portray the external world but only her inner one, and so their scratchy, febrile quality is intrinsic to her themes of self-loathing, joyless sexuality and mawkish sentiment. What she does with a pen is an equivalent of the Surrealists’ automatic drawing in which it is the psyche that guides the hand, for instance in Laying with the Olive Trees. It is a method that makes her an occasionally effective but an always limited draughtsman.
Freud, however, believed that hand and eye were vital to drawing and his mastery of a far broader range of skills, from perspective to modelling, meant that he was able to show the internal through the external. In The Painter’s Mother, for example, he deliberately chose to draw his subject with a soft pencil on thick-weave paper and so transmit both a tangible sense of the flaccidity of old age but also something of the tenderness of his feelings for her-a subtlety far beyond Emin.
Two of the Lucian Freud works, “The Painter’s Mother” and “Startled Man”, alongside 100 other drawings dating from the 1940s until the artist’s death in 2011, can be seen in “Lucian Freud: Drawings” at the Blain Southern Gallery, Mayfair, London until April 5 and then at the Acquavella Galleries, New York, from April 30 until June 9. “Blonde Girl” is on display as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “Lucian Freud: Portraits”, until May 27.
The Tracey Emin prints are reproduced courtesy of Counter Editions.