Rare Lucian Freud portrait of Guinness heir as a boy expected to sell for over €7m

Artist, who eloped with a Guinness in the early 1950s, painted portrait in Co Wicklow

‘A jewel of a painting’: Lucian Freud’s Head of a Boy, a portrait of the young Garech Browne. Photograph: Sotheby’s

‘A jewel of a painting’: Lucian Freud’s Head of a Boy, a portrait of the young Garech Browne. Photograph: Sotheby’s

 

The late Guinness heir Garech Browne was proud of his portrait by Lucian Freud, which shows him as a young boy with a thatch of blond hair.

Browne, who died in March 2018, his ashes scattered over the lake of his beloved Luggala estate in Co Wicklow, left behind a houseful of artworks, first edition books and antique furniture.

The 1956 portrait is said to have hung in the sittingroom at Luggala for more than 50 years, though Browne would tell visitors that it was a copy and the original was stashed in the bank for safekeeping.

Now it’s on the market with Sotheby’s in London and expected to fetch up to £6.5million (€7.4million).

Garech Browne in the 1950s. He became a patron of Irish arts and music. Photograph: Dorian Browne/Sotheby’s
Garech Browne in the 1950s. He became a patron of Irish arts and music. Photograph: Dorian Browne/Sotheby’s

Browne, who founded Claddagh Record and was a lifelong patron of the Irish arts, was 16 when he sat for the 34-year-old Freud at Luggala, the 5,000 acre estate gifted to him by his mother, Oonagh Guinness. The story goes that their first sitting was interrupted when the house went on fire, but a second sitting was arranged and eventually the portrait was completed.

The result was “a jewel of a painting”, according to Tom Eddison, contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s.“It is so precise and so beautifully executed. It is a really extraordinary painting, a very tender and beautiful portrait.”

Freud first visited Luggala with his then wife, Kitty Garman, in the 1940s and later the artist married into the family, eloping to Paris with Browne’s cousin Lady Caroline Blackwood in 1953.

Oonagh Guinness established Luggala as a society playground with artists and aristocrats partying alongside politicians, models and anyone who appreciated a stiff cocktail at the end of a mile-long driveway that wound its way through a forest. When Browne inherited the house in 1970, he carried on the tradition, inviting poets, writer and rock stars to the turreted house where champagne flowed and guests would stay for days on end. It’s claimed The Beatles once took acid there, Brendan Behan was a guest, and Marianne Faithfull is said to have called it “the most beautiful place in the world”.

In later years, Browne had filled the house with portraits of Irish artists he’d commissioned from the painter Anthony Palliser, but it’s his own portrait as a boy that is likely to be the most valuable item to come from Luggala.

Garech Browne in the sittingroom at Luggala with the Lucian Freud portait in the background (on right). Photograph: Neil Gavin

The portrait was included in Freud’s major 1974 retrospective at London’s Hayward Gallery and a 2008 show in Dublin but otherwise has not been seen in public until now. At 18cm by 18cm, it is a small painting, similar in size to Boy Smoking (1950-51), in the Tate collection; and Freud’s 1952 painting of artist Francis Bacon that was also in the Tate collection but was stolen while on display in Berlin in 1988 and has yet to be recovered.

It’s the first public sale of artwork from Luggala, which also houses a library of rare Irish books. However,  much of the houses’s most valuable contents had been sold at a grand auction in 2006 when Browne declared that he needed to “de-clutter”. The cleara-out raised close to €3million.

That year, Luggala was rented out for several weeks to the singer Michael Jackson and was regularly for rent at up to €15,000 a week during long periods when Browne would travel abroad to stay visit his wife, Princess Harshad Purna Devi, who lived in Singapore.

Luggala, the Guinness home and estate in Co Wicklow, was the scene of legendary parties. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Luggala, the Guinness home and estate in Co Wicklow, was the scene of legendary parties. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Browne finally put Luggala on the market in 2017, asking €28 million. He hoped to find a buyer who would allow him to stay on in the house, but within a year of it going on the market he died while travelling to Ireland from Singapore.

The estate is still on the market. Appeals have been made to the Government to buy the uplands of the estate to secure access for walkers.

Head of a Boy will be sold at Sotheby’s contemporary art sale on March 5th with an estimate of £4.5 million to £6.5 million.