The subject of this painting is Kathleen Garman, Freud’s first wife, and a frequent model for him throughout their short marriage. Although unnamed in the title, Kathleen was known by the diminutive ‘Kitty’, which might give significance to the white-knuckled, choking grasp with which she holds the kitten in the portrait. Kitty’s eyes are averted, but the kitten stares out at the viewer, giving the painting an unsettling poignancy.
Girl with a Kitten
Date of work
Original: Oil paint on canvas41 × 30.7 Tate. Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008 © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images 2023
Lucian Michael Freud (1922 – 2011) was a British painter and draftsman, and is considered one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists. Although his early work contained surrealist elements, he is best known for his figurative paintings more heavily influenced by realism and intense observation. Most of his models were friends and family members, and this relationship between artist and model, often unsettling or uncomfortable, is a central theme to his work. His reputation for demanding schedules for these models was well established, with one painting taking approximately 2,400 hours to complete and requiring the model to attend all but four evenings of that time.