The personal life of Lucian Freud has fascinated journalists and biographers for a long time. An earthy realist painter who is widely thought to be Britain’s greatest living artist, he’s also the grandson of Sigmund Freud and the so-called black sheep of the London-based Freud clan at that. His fleshy paintings of friends and family members include daughters in positions fathers don’t normally see and a rotund Australian drag queen from angles that most people would not choose to see. And though Mr. Freud has become something of a recluse in recent years, in the 60’s he was a pub crawler and close friend of Francis Bacon, a regular in the more seedy dives of Soho back then.
Several years ago, British author Nigel Jones set out to deliver a biography of the noted painter; his book was on the Christmas release list of Richard Cohen Books, a publisher in London, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the United States. But, according to his London publisher, he abandoned the book in September after being scared away from the project by his subject. Now, Farrar, which was to have published the United States edition in January, is attempting to back out of its contract with the British publisher and recover its investment.
In fact, on the basis of the bungled Freud biography, Roger Straus, Farrar’s president, said he is not interested in acquiring any other books on living subjects.
Mr. Jones was unavailable for comment, but Richard Cohen, chairman of Richard Cohen Books, told The Observer that Mr. Jones felt “physically worried” by events that occurred during his research on the Freud biography. Earlier this year, sources said, Mr. Jones, author of three books, was hounded repeatedly by phone callers who would either breathe into the phone or hang up. “They called at all times of the day,” said the source, “particularly in the small hours of the night.” Mr. Jones was driven into hiding, quit his job and was nowhere to be found for several months. When he resurfaced in September, he announced that he was going to stop working on the Freud biography.
“He was shaken by the experience,” said Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen explained that as a book publisher, he himself has been threatened as a result of other unauthorized biographies and is not afraid of controversy. But he said that he was concerned for the safety of his author.
In an interview, Mr. Freud denied having hounded Mr. Jones. “I just say at the beginning with what’s-he-called-Nigel Jones-never, ever heard of him, he never, ever contacted me,” said Mr. Freud. “I am not saying that no one has ever breathed down the telephone to him, but it is not remotely to do with me. I am just not amused by things like that. I didn’t breathe down the phone to him, absolutely not, even in my sleep.”
“The only thing I knew,” he continued, “was that in the Christmas lists last Christmas, I read one of the events to look forward to in the coming year is a biography of me by Nigel Jones in which he would praise and elucidate my great art and delve into the hidden, deeper, sinister corners of my life. So I just got [my solicitor] to send a note to the publisher reminding him that the reproduction rights of my work belong to me, and as for the dark and deep and sinister corners of my life, I’ve been successful over a number of litigations for libel, which is true.”
Mr. Cohen said that he explained to Mr. Straus that Mr. Jones might return to the subject in a year or two once the pressure had subsided. “I think Nigel is going to write a great book,” said Mr. Cohen. “He already has some really good stuff.” He added that in spite of Mr. Freud’s penchant for privacy, which rivals that of J.D. Salinger, Mr. Jones had been able to interview the late Caroline Blackwood, one of Mr. Freud’s four wives. According to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Jones also interviewed Mr. Freud’s daughter, Esther Freud. (Mr. Freud told The Observer that his daughter told him that she told Mr. Jones she would not be interviewed by him.) But Mr. Straus was not to be moved from his position. He told Mr. Cohen that he wanted out from the contract and to be paid back his investment.
“I’d never want to say that Roger Straus was frightened by anything,” said Mr. Cohen. “But I do know that Freud or relations of Freud got to his senior staff and asked them not to publish the book.”
Reached in his Union Square office, Mr. Straus confirmed that he had tried to break the contract with Richard Cohen Books and recoup his investment on the Freud biography. “I decided not to do the book,” he said. Mr. Straus then gave his rendition of the events in the story: “Richard Cohen offered me the book on the basis of an outline when I was in London. I said, ‘Yes. I’ll pick up the American end.’ And then nothing happened, and the first hunk of the book didn’t come. So I said to Richard, ‘Where is the first hunk of the book?’ He said, ‘Well, the author has got a lot of trouble, and he probably won’t write the book.’ So I said, ‘How do I get my money back?’ He said, well, he would offer us another book. I didn’t want the other book. I then decided that even if he did write the book, I didn’t want it.”
Mr. Straus denied that he had been influenced by friends of Mr. Freud. “Nobody lifted a phone to me,” he said with a laugh, adding, “As you know, I know some of the family. I knew the late Mrs. who-sie Freud,” he said, referring to Blackwood, who died last year. He added: “I suddenly felt that I really wasn’t interested in publishing biographies about living people, that it could only be trouble. I’d rather stick with dead people. Simple as that.”
Finishing Off Marcel Duchamp
In 19 Pounds and Two Volumes
When Delano Greenidge agreed to accept a visitor on a Saturday afternoon, he pointed out that as it was soccer day for his two boys, and he was their coach, he was not sure what shape he would be in. He pronounced the word soccer with the British accent of his native Trinidad, ending the first syllable with a stressed, hard “c.” As he walked into a room in his East Village apartment, with paint peeling off the walls and children’s toys scattered around, Mr. Greenidge seemed large enough to hold his own on a playing field with a bunch of boys. He dropped a box on a table that contained a 19-pound, two-volume book entitled The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp .
“This is it,” said Mr. Greenidge as the book hit the table. Mr. Greenidge is a small art-book publisher, and his company, Delano Greenidge Editions, has invested more than $1 million in the two-volume book. It started out in 1990 as an update of the 1969 edition of The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp , which is out of print, and ended up as a complete retooling of the original.
It now includes 253 additional works of art that have been attributed to Duchamp since the old volume, and a detailed description by critic Arturo Schwarz of the artist’s masterpiece, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even . Since much of Duchamp’s work consisted of notes, sketches and “ready-mades”-bicycle wheels and urinals as art pieces- The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp is the final completion of Duchamp’s idea of gathering all of his work together in one place. Still, Mr. Greenidge does not see it as a noble undertaking, nor is he especially interested in the artist for whom he has done such a great service.
“I see this as good business,” said Mr. Greenidge. “I have a 19-pound, three-dimensional object, which is a great image for the company.”
The 1,000-page set of volumes is for sale for a mere $225.