Harry Diamond, who has died aged 85, took this photo of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud in
1950 1974. In 1951, Freud had painted Diamond’s portrait – producing one of his best-known works, Interior at Paddington which had been commissioned by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain. It was painted in a low-rent room in Paddington, overlooking the Grand Union canal. The carpet in the portrait was bought by Freud from a junk shop in the Harrow Road.
Interior at Paddington was given to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, and is one of its outstanding treasures. In 1979 Harry Diamond was commissioned to take photographs of buildings around Liverpool. While here, he told the staff of the Walker that the biggest complaint he had about being painted by Freud was being required to stand around posing for six months. When Freud painted him again – in Paddington in 1970 – Diamond was seated. Freud himself remembered Diamond’s response to the 1951 portrait: “He said I made his legs too short. The whole thing was that his legs were too short. He was aggressive as he had a bad time being brought up in the East End and being persecuted.”
Both these fine paintings are held in Liverpool collections – the 1951 portrait in the Walker, and the 1970 in the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery. As a companion piece, here is Harry Diamond’s portrait of Freud photographed at around the same time:
Harry Diamond was a street photographer documenting a seedy and brilliant 1960s Soho with photos of, amongst others, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. He was born into a Jewish household in the East End in 1924. He was always dressed in a well-worn grey Gannex raincoat in which he hid his 35mm camera — until it was needed. He had a notoriously abrupt and often aggressive manner and spoke in a staccato, earnest Cockney, invariably followed by “All right”, said emphatically.
As well as his portraits, Diamond also documented the changing cityscape of South and East London, which he knew intimately. His black-and-white pictures, always beautifully printed, in a fine, grainy format, were apparently some of the very best pictures of London at the time. They have not been collected in a book. I would love to see them, but particularly those photos he took in Liverpool in 1979.
- Interior at Paddington (1951): Liverpool Museums page
- Harry Diamond: Guardian obituary
- Harry Diamond: Independent obituary, written by John Pilgrim