Two paintings, one near-forgotten Liverpool artist

Walking back from a hospital appointment this morning, I called in at the University’s Victoria Gallery to take another look at two of my favourite paintings currently out of storage and on display.  One is Lucian Freud’s portrait of Harry Diamond, Paddington Interior, painted in 1970, and the other, facing it on the adjacent wall, is Morning Interior by Dick Young, painted in 1957.

It’s fitting, I think, that these two paintings should be displayed within sight of each other: they are both fine, expressive works that have skilfully manipulated perspective to represent the context and the inner state of mind of the sitter.  One is by an artist who is recognised as perhaps the most important and influential artist of his generation; the other is by a Liverpool painter whose work is now largely forgotten.

Lucian Freud’s Paddington Interior, Harry Diamond (1970), is the most important 20th century painting in the University collection. Purchased in 1970 for £1,800, it has been extensively loaned around the world – I wonder if it will travel to the National Portrait Gallery for the big exhibition of Freud portraits, opening next month? Freud has played tricks with perspective here, foreshortening the view to squeeze the room furnishings into the top corners of the canvas and place the sitter dead centre.  It’s a portrait that sizzles with tension; everything about Diamond’s awkward posture – his clenched fists, and the sense that he is about to leap to his feet and storm out of the room – suggesting something strained in the relationship between sitter and artist.

Freud later recalled that Diamond was aggrieved at his earlier 1951 portrait of the photographer that’s in the Walker Art Gallery (the one with the cactus):  ‘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’.

Richard Young deserves a major retrospective.  He was born in Walton, Liverpool in 1921, the  the youngest son of Henry (an electrician) and Nelly Young. The family moved to London and then Newcastle where Richard became an apprentice ship’s electrician.  By 1945, Young had started painting, and attended classes and weekend schools with occasional distinguished visiting tutors.  When his father died in 1953, Richard returned with his mother to Walton, and soon became an established figure on the Liverpool arts scene, known to everyone as Dick.  By the late 1950s he was gaining recognition, with his first exhibition at the Liverpool Academy in 1955, followed two years later by having Morning Interior selected for the first John Moores exhibition.

Morning Interior is a portrait of the artist as a young man in a striped dressing gown enjoying a contemplative fag after Sunday breakfast, with his mother, Nelly, lying on the sofa, and a young woman reading the papers behind him.

The Victoria Gallery caption reads:

Young’s paintings are generally centred around the home, whether interiors or views from windows.  This work is at base level a self-portrait, the artist shown relaxing with a cigarette, wearing a stripey dressing gown.  To the left is a detailed still-life of a breakfast table.  In the background are further figures, one seated reading a paper, the other lying on a sofa.  Young has manipulated the viewing point of the picture, skilfully joining together various elements of the room to create a complete image.

You can read more about Dick Young, and see galleries of his paintings, on my blog, Dick Young: Legendary Liverpool denizen and artist.

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