It’s an account of a life so rigorously dedicated to art and family that fame seems beside the point ... As a writer, she’s possessed of a heightened sensibility, a particular vantage on to the world ... Self-Portrait illuminates what Freud’s long shadow obscured: Celia Paul herself, and an altogether different way of being an artist ... Paul speaks of Freud not as a teacher, but a lover, a man who both delighted and frustrated her. She does not engage in the question of what effect his style might have had on her artistic development, nor does she answer whether her youthful experience modeling for Freud informed her own practice of painting ... Celia Paul is a more gifted writer than she has any business being; it’s almost unfair ... Self-Portrait reads like a novel. Paul alights on a topic, offers asides and digressions, circles back to her main point. The work is written with intention but wears it lightly. ... Her painting is not an act of close observation—she’s seen these people before—but some deeper communion with the person she’s aiming to fix on canvas. It’s impressive that she’s able to render them in words, too, on the page: Freud, her parents, and, of course, herself.
... captivating ... Paul writes about her struggle to love someone while dedicating herself to her painting, explaining in her prologue that she hopes her book will 'speak to young women artists — and perhaps to all women — who will no doubt face this challenge in their lives at some time and will have to resolve this conflict in their own ways.' But this makes her mesmerizing book sound more helpful than it is, or than it needs to be; Self-Portrait is less tidy and more surprising than such a potted purpose would allow ... Paul’s powers of observation are keen and often ruthless, but she never resorts to the language of self-pity — even when a reader might expect her to. Self-Portrait reveals an abjection that declines to announce itself as such ... Pages of this book are given over to notebook entries she kept decades ago, describing her painting practice with a moving, almost painful, immediacy.
... a beautifully written bildungsroman, a 'portrait of the artist' as a young woman. It is also, more uniquely, a powerful resource for artists who face the dueling responsibilities of creation and caregiving. You don’t have to be a woman or a mother to feel this friction.
The naked girl and the famous artist: It’s an old story and perhaps predictable arrangement of roles for Freud, the much older and more famous painter, and Paul, his beautiful younger lover; he paints and she sits for him. And yet. The concept of sitting occurs over and over again in Paul’s book, and these roles are not as static as Naked Girl With Egg might lead us to believe. Nor is sitting as simple as it might seem ... Self-Portrait might be read as a series of sittings over the course of a lifetime ... But it is part of a longer story that she is telling about herself and Freud and others in her life, about the painter and those she paints. In Self-Portrait, Paul is her own subject, but so are the shifting conditions of subjecthood and objecthood, the changing relationships between the painter and the painted ... Her telling of this story is characterized by a certain matter-of-factness ... Paul’s prose is at once unflinching and direct as well as reticent, full of gaps ... there is a kind of dialectic between directness and reticence in her work, as she reports the facts but obscures the motivations.
Much of the narrative in this book circles around her turbulent relationship with Lucian Freud. After his death, she noticed mentions of herself in his obituaries, as well as articles and books, and became determined to tell her own story. No longer wanting to remain simply a part of Freud’s story, she wanted to make him part of her story, a narrative about her life as a painter ... This side of Freud remains largely hidden in William Feaver’s recent The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth . Her views, both intimate and yet more distant and independent, enable her to recall hidden aspects of Freud’s life, his vulnerability, vanity, tenderness and undoubted need of her, as well as his brutality towards women.
Despite the suggestion of reclaimed narratives, chapter one of her life story is titled ‘Lucian’. He remains the dark sun under which this grimly compelling narrative unfolds ... The story she relates through images and words has the feel of a painter’s parable, in which hardship, sacrifice and solitude lead, eventually, to something like grace. There are times when her Christ-like embrace of suffering may grate, but Paul is uninterested in making herself appear more palatable for the benefit of a reader.
Charting her decade-long relationship with Freud, Self-Portrait is, quite explicitly, an exercise in reversing the subject position: 'By writing about myself in my own words, I have made my life my own story' ... Writing from different eras intersects in a jumble of thought and memory, leaving the reader sometimes unsure as to whether we are reading the words of a twenty- or near-sixty-year-old ... Paul observes: 'Although I was Lucian’s subject, he wasn’t mine' ... Self-Portrait illuminates how supremely difficult it is to make an artistic practice work alongside the demands of care-giving and home-making ... Self-Portrait makes clear just how much Freud was influenced and energized by Paul as an artist as well as a lover and subject, but there has been little allowance for others in the story of his genius. Though well it might, Celia Paul’s book does not feel angry. Instead, the author draws on the rare reflective power she exhibits in her art, to communicate what, she found, painting could not.
Self-Portrait , Celia Paul’s memoir and account of her decade-long entanglement with Lucian Freud, is both the story of a life and an argument for her own legacy. To be known as Freud’s companion might be fine, for a time; to be canonized as such would be unbearable. His death in 2011, and her subsequent subordination as Freud’s lover and muse, made it seem unlikely that she would ever be known simply as “the painter Celia Paul.” But Paul’s memoir is more than an attempt to balance the scales. Self-Portrait is the work of someone who has learned how to see herself ... Were Celia Paul and Lucian Freud not great artists, the story of their affair might read as a cliché. Young girl from the backwoods with an outward naïveté that belies an iron will meets an older, theatrically unattractive, cultured man. The girl, who doesn’t distinguish between love and subjugation, falls for him. He needs adoration; she conceals her own needs. Years of emotional torment follow. Gradually, she begins to assert her ambition. Maybe she leaves him; maybe she becomes the subject of her own life. This might be called a success, but Paul doesn’t insist on our seeing it that way: in Self-Portrait no one is that innocent, and no one escapes unscarred.
We look in vain for anger or defiance, or a self-worth that repudiates his treatment of her: as often with this book, we are torn between fury on her behalf and fury at her complicity ... This book has a prologue that is a sort of self-justification: about the artist’s need for space and privacy, which meant that Frank could not live with her, that her husband to this day does not have a key to her flat. Self-Portrait seems a long-delayed correction of that power balance: she is her own sitter now; Freud will appear as a part of her life, rather than she being perpetually a part of his. In this last aim, I’m not sure she succeeds. Even so, the book takes on a significance beyond a personal story that is often pathetic and sometimes grubby. It puts yet another twist to our view of Freud: a man of his time, perhaps, but (we think) not of our own. And it turns into a sort of myth about the misuse of fame and the male ego, about the struggles faced by creative women, about the body in all its guises. Like a myth, it unfolds with confusions and contradictions, a terrible inevitability and many, many discomfiting truths.
Celia Paul’s memoir,Self-Portrait, is a different animal altogether. Lucian Freud, whose muse and lover she was, is rendered here—and acutely—but as Paul puts it, with typical simplicity and clarity, 'Lucian…is made part of my story rather than, as is usually the case, me being portrayed as part of his.' Her story is striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse, by a man who did that a lot ... she neither rejects her past with Freud nor rewrites it, placing present ideas and feelings alongside diary entries and letters she wrote as a young woman, a generous, vulnerable strategy that avoids the usual triumphalism of memoir ... In the head of the muse were the eyes of a painter ... Paul, young or old, does not scorn the idea that gratitude can exist between muse and artist, and move in two directions: love lessons becoming art lessons, and vice versa. But she does not romanticize the price of entry ... One of the subtle methods of this crafty book is insinuation, creating new feminist genealogies and hierarchies by implication ... [a] powerful little book ... Self-Portrait will go some way to clearing [the] mist from the world of portraiture, and might also act as gentle intervention, intended for the kind of young girl tempted to swap self-realization for external validation.
[The] relationship, between artist and model, lies at the heart of Paul’s memoir ... Self-Portrait...is an unashamed bid to reclaim 'her own story', to become master of her own life and art, rather than being reduced to an object in Freud’s ... Just as Paul regards her paintings of those closest to her as a record of her own existence, so too Self-Portrait is constituted by a series of portraits-in-writing ... Similarly, the texture of what she creates on the page is analogous to that of her paintings: her prose stripped back and minimalist, as devoid of excess adornment as her sombre, melancholy but emotionally charged canvases. Even at her most incendiary...Paul’s writing never loses this essence of calm solemnity ... For all this candour, Paul’s revelations retain an air of abstruseness...Somehow, she remains detached ... There’s something tremendously refreshing about Paul’s lack of sensationalism, which encourages a similar detachment in the reader ... Self-Portrait is both the obvious extension of Paul’s oeuvre, and a powerful, urgent and essential depiction of what it is to be a woman artist.
... while the book, which includes contemporaneous notes and letters, vividly portrays her relations with Freud, it situates that portrayal within an account of her self-inspection and development as an artist that would impress Rilke. Her writing has the same intensity and restraint as her paintings ... Hardest of all on herself, Paul makes clear that her inward focus and discipline require constant psychic struggle. It puts this book among the most intriguing accounts I’ve read of maternal ambivalence. Paul approaches her primal connection to Frank, her son by Freud, whom she leaves mostly to the care of her mother, as an existential threat ... Acknowledging that women have frequently been relegated to the status of muse, lover, object, Paul reclaims even that as an enviable talent: 'Their natural propensity for giving themselves up to the experience, combined with an aptitude for stillness, has made many women great muses to great male artists.' Imagine someone capable of both these forms of channeling, able to use one to stoke the other. For an artist, no experience is wasted.
... is a delicate reconstruction of a self never lost but perhaps silenced ... As a woman, as one of Freud’s many lovers, as a painter bent on capturing the unseen beyond the material world, Celia Paul has a large task in stepping beyond a male-dominated and fame-obsessed art world. The opening of her book, which describes her first encounter with Freud, makes clear how capable she is of taking control, both then and now ... Celia Paul read Dickens as a young woman and lived near the Brontë parsonage with her family. There is something of both writers in her tale, the quiet, much plagued child who eventually, through inherent worth and hard work, triumphs in London. She has written her own story, though, and rescued a remarkable painter.