Freudian connections


The celebrated portrait painter Lucian Freud who has just died had his Ulster connections, having once been married to the beautiful minor novelist and aristocrat Caroline Blackwood, one of the Guinnesses who was ( barely)  educated at Rockport  school near Holywood.  (Did she trot over from Clandeboye I wonder?). But far more interesting than one of many relationships was one of the subjects of his searing portraits.

At a Freud exhibition several years ago, among the portraits of the ample Sue Tilley, a grumpy Queen and an unusually vulnerable and worn -looking Kate Moss, I stopped short. There on the wall were  couple of portraits of heavy looking men dressed thankfully in tight-fitting suits, described , if memory serves, as undertakers, father and son,  from Antrim Road Belfast and painted I think in the 1960s. And that is exactly what they ought to have looked like. I half meant to track them down but never did. So who are they or were they? Someone knows. Please speak up. We’d love to have your story.

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  • Rory Carr

    I can’t help with the undertakers I’m afraid but then I do my best to have as little as possible to do with the men of this profession nowadays.

    Caroline Blackwood is as interesting a figure as Freud and much more colourful really. Her time spent at the Colony Club during the 1960’s preceded my own few visits there by at least a decade, which is my loss. I was so taken by this description of her deathbed moments from Wikipedia that, in between my warm chuckles I reverted to my Irish peasant roots and breathed a silent prayer for her sweet repose:

    ‘During her final illness she never lost her dark, macabre humour. On her deathbed Anna Haycraft brought her some holy water from Lourdes which was accidentally spilled on her bed sheets. “I might have caught my death,” she muttered.

    ‘Blackwood died on 14 February 1996 from cancer at The Mayfair Hotel on Park Avenue in New York aged 64.’

  • JoeBryce

    Great post. So much art has been generated when our own cold purity has met Bohemia.

  • wee buns

    Thanks for the intriguing post.
    Sorry I can’t help with the clad gents of Belfast but shall keep my eye open.

    Searing portraits indeed! So naked they are animalistic. So animated they are crawling off the canvas.

    Famously he was friends with Behan, Kavanagh and very much so with Bacon; spent time in Mayo and lived for a while in Dublin.

    Kitty Garman (first wife) wrote of post emergency Dublin 1951:

    Dublin looks very beautiful under a mist of virgina creeper and gull’s wings. It is like nowhere else, very human and sad and lost. The poorest beggars live in the grandest 18th century houses and barefoot children play in parks filled with statues of heroes.’

  • pippakin

    Not exactly animated but possibly La Sonnambula.

  • Greenflag

    @wee buns ,

    The poorest beggars live in the grandest 18th century houses and barefoot children play in parks filled with statues of heroes.’

    Not quite the reality but better sounding .

    The poorest one third of the population not all beggars but there were a few, lived in dilapidated ,overcrowded rat infested slums and had numerous children because there was no family planning and Mother Church forbade the use of any method of control with the warning that those who did so would suffer the pains of hell for all eternity .

    Surprisingly those who donated most to the Church’s coffers and dwelt in more comfortable surroundings in the better suburbs somehow managed to have fewer children without getting belted by their local crozier wielder.

    Or was it because they were better educated , wealthier and got the ‘hypocritical ‘ rhythm method advocated by the celebates as God’s ‘natural ‘ way out ?

  • Greenflag

    An interesting post even for an a visual arts near illiterate like myself . I know and knew more about Clement Freud and his grandfather , but that appears to be the case with everybody bar the visual arts fraternity as regards Lucian who was in any event not a ‘media ‘ obsessed person.

    Ironically I was browsing through Vinnie Caprani’s ‘ Rowdy Rhymes and Recimitations (Doggerel for a Departed Dublin) the one alluded to somewhat above in Kitty Garman’s quoted description when the news came in of Lucian Freud’s death.

    And even more ironically the name Freud in this case a reference to grandfather Sigmund appeared as if by some coincidence Anywhere here’sa short excerpt from ‘The Irish Hoor’ which gives a sense of the flavour or atmosphere of the 1920’s and earlier up to that turning point in our self awareness when Oliver Flanagan TD shocked one half of the nation and the other half rolling on the floor when he exclaimed on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show -‘That there was no sex in Ireland before television’

    I suppose Flanagan himself must have been immaculately conceived 😉

    ‘No harems , no brothels , no kip shops did sully the land of the Celt.
    No wife swapping bed hopping antics , no need for a chastity belt .
    Where virtue indeed was triumphant and the Round Tower alone was erect .
    Resembling a great phallic symbol , did the saints and the scholars suspect ?
    That the towers that embellished the landscape , standing in grandeur and pride .
    Would open the doors of conjecture for the smut minded students of Freud (Sigmund ) .

  • pippakin

    Lucian Freud captured something in his paintings. Its possible to look at the above and see not much more than a sea side post card, (not that I’m knocking them they were an art form in themselves) but its also possible to see a great deal more,


    If they were ‘better educated’ there is no way they put any faith at all in the rhythm method.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Lucian Freud captured something in his paintings’

    I would think so .People don’t usually pay 35 million dollars for nothing unless they are being squeezed to bail out dissolute banksters .

    ‘If they were ‘better educated’ there is no way they put any faith at all in the rhythm method.’

    You are probably correct but also back then ‘better educated ‘ did not mean those who had completed second level education (about 11% ) or the fewer still who had a university education (3%) would have been on the cutting edge of family planning methods either . No internet back then and air fares to London or car trips to Belfast would have been expensive and inconvenient .

  • pippakin


    Always with the cash. I suppose it is possible to look at that painting and see Euro’s or Dollars or even bankers. Its not what I see.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Always with the cash’

    You may have misinterpreted my comment – When I looked at that painting first knowing not a lot about Lucian Freud’s work I saw an example of the wobbly reality of our present day ‘obese ‘society’ . Having listened to a recorded interview with the artists model re her experience of posing for the great artist I had another look and amended my first impression and interpretation .

    Artists look at the world through different eyes and see things as others might not or don’t want to and on that score as I’m travelling tomorrow for a break I’ll leave you the story of how Picasso was summoned by the Nazi commandant of Paris who shows him a reproduction of Picasso’s famous painting of Guernica’s destruction by German bombers in the Spanish Civil War.

    ‘Did you do that ?’ the commandant asked Picasso in a somewhat menacing tone .

    ‘No’ replied Picasso

    ‘You did ‘

    Our civilisation owes more to our artists than most people ever consider . From the unknown rock painters of sub Saharan Africa to the also unknown cave painters of Lascaux and Altimira there is a 30,000 year history in which artists were the first human beings to use materials to paint symbols of their ‘reality’ and in so doing have been able to tell much of how they lived to distant posterity.

    Lucian Freud is one in a long line of artists who have kept faith with humanity as it is.

  • pippakin


    I’m not sure if artists do look at the world through different eyes or if they simply see what they are looking at. To me:

    ” I would think so .People don’t usually pay 35 million dollars for nothing unless they are being squeezed to bail out dissolute banksters”

    is a direct reference to the financial, but perhaps you intended a different meaning.

    Its said beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I see a kind of beauty in the portrait.

  • Greenflag

    I did’nt intend to imply to intend anything other than the painting obviously has a value if somebody is prepared to pay 35 million for it . What that artistic value is- is beyond my admitted limited capacity to see not being educated in the visual arts but I quite accept that others more educated in that field than I would have very different perspective . I don’t see anything beautiful in being 200 pounds overweight and I know that I personally could not spend more than 4 minutes never mind 4 days looking at such a ‘wobbly mass of flesh ‘ but then that was Lucian Freud’s genius that he not only could do that but actually get it on canvas and ditto for his other ‘real life ‘ portraits .

    According to the interview the lady of lard herself very much enjoyed the posing and delighted in Lucian Freud’s artistry and he too so much enjoyed the encounter that he took said model to dinner a few times I believe during the ‘creation’ not that was ever any possibility of said lady fading away through malnourishment .

    I’m sure decades and centuries hence Lucian Freud will be viewed as a much sought after ‘old master .

    I’m glad for you that you can see a kind of beauty =for me it’s a stark reminder that I gotta lose another 10 pounds on top of the 24 I’ve already lost over the past couple of months as the swine Doc persists in reducing my calorific intake to a diet apparently based on dog biscuits and lemon water 🙁