In the artist’s frank new memoir, her turbulent decade-long relationship with Lucian Freud is one trial of many to be endured in the pursuit of her art
‘I have made my life my own story,’ the painter Celia Paul writes in the introduction to her recently published memoir, Self-Portrait. ‘Lucian, particularly, is made part of that story rather than, as is usually the case, me being portrayed as part of his.’ The Lucian in question is Lucian Freud, with whom Paul had a painful ten year relationship and a child. Despite the suggestion of reclaimed narratives, chapter one of her life story is titled ‘Lucian’. He remains the dark sun under which this grimly compelling narrative unfolds.
The book, told through Paul’s reminiscences, historic diary entries, paintings and photographs, begins in 1977, on the day the pair met. She was 18, a student at The Slade School of Fine Art in London. He was 55 and a celebrated painter, who arrived at The Slade for a job as a visiting tutor dressed in an expensive woollen suit. Paul’s first impressions describe a man with comically ghoulish charisma. His face, she writes, ‘had an eerie glow as if it was lit from within, like a candle inside a turnip’. She showed him some earnest studies she had made of her mother. He invited her back to his flat.
Image: Celia Paul, Self-Portrait in a Narrow Mirror, 2019