There is a restaurant in Kensington where I go from time to time to have a very quiet chat with someone over lunch. The food is superb and the decibel level never rises above 30, a workable pianissimo. Best of all, I hardly ever see anyone there from the music world.
One day, eight or nine years ago, a shadow fell over my soup. A tall man, slightly stooped and sombre, stood at the street door. In contrast to the suits and boots seated around the room, he wore baggy, paint-stained pants and a torn, ancient sweater. The maitre d’ bustled over and led him to a corner table at the rear, evidently his regular spot.
I saw him there afterwards on quite a few occasions, usually with a young female colleague, as muted as the rest of us. He caught my eye once, a slow, inquisitive, somewhat shy glance, not seeking connection, rather assuming that we knew each other. I nodded. He nodded. That was it.
But his glance imprinted itself for the way it seemed to take possession of all it embraced – the walls, the space, the waiters, the diners, me. I did not shrink from it, but its assumption of ownership left me feeling as if had been observed in a private, possibly intimate, act. The artist’s eye? No, more than that. Lucian Freud had a way of making everything within a space his own.
I took to looking out for him whenever I entered that restaurant. If he was there in the corner, our eyes would gloss like a handshake, and move on. He had placed me in his perspective, as backdrop.
Self-portrait by Lucian Freud, on sale at Sotheby’s, London, January 2010, all rights reserved