Harriet Vyner, writer, on Lucian Freud’s 1937 sandstone sculpture of a horse
GB Why did you choose this sculpture?
HV Not only is this a favourite of mine but also, it is a curious reminder of how my views on beauty have developed over the years. When I was in my early teens, I heard some grown ups talking about a beautiful sandstone horse sculpture Lucian Freud had created, aged fifteen. I was already fascinated by the idea of Lucian Freud, loved horses and was particularly intrigued by what was officially considered beautiful.
When I found a photograph of it, I was surprised and secretly, disappointed. I was disappointed by the size of its feet and, to be truthful, that there were only three of them.
At that age though, there was some relief that this imperfect object had been judged so highly by those who knew about such matters. It did have that peculiar quality that seemed to suggest that I alone understood it. I was charmed but that also seemed a bit childish. I just couldn’t quite see that it fell into that mysterious higher category. It was good, there was no doubt about that and I found myself thinking – so it’s beautiful as well, is it? Okay. Then it is.
GB How has your view of it changed over time?
HV When I saw it in Edinburgh in 1997, I was tremendously surprised once again. However, at this much older age, the surprise was at how much it affected me. It now seemed complete and satisfactory on every level and that always has a physical effect. It made me want to cry a bit and I felt cheered by it too, charm no longer being a suspect attribute.
I can now see it is an extraordinary work and I look forward to being surprised by it again at some future retrospective. It is somewhat poignant, as something made by someone young but it has an authority that lifts it above most youthful art. It is full of promise, which we now know was fulfilled, but also perfect in its way.
GB Does having known Lucian personally affect your view of it?
HV I usually refer artistic responses back to my own memories in some way but I would love this sculpture just as much if I were looking at it in a neolithic exhibition. However, I do have a very strong idea of a young Lucian making it, I can easily imagine him concentrating intensely over it, so perhaps that does add a certain extra layer of affection.
GB What makes something worthy of the word beauty to you?
HV It starts with the strength of feeling the object produces in me – it has to be moving in some way. It has to have oddness, so that you want to look again and try to fathom what it is that’s so compelling about it. This sculpture has just those attributes. Not only is it moving but also, it conveys slightly more than I can quite grasp – which is when I know that something is to my mind, satisfactorily and officially beautiful.