Unholy Trinity

Images above (left to right) Lucian Freud Girl with Roses, 1947-8 oil on canvas Credit British Council, London, UK © The Lucian Freud Archive, Bridgeman Images Two Fishermen 1949 (oil on canvas) by John Minton (1917-57) © The Royal College of Art, Bridgeman Images Adrian Ryan, Self Portrait 1944, oil on canvas, private collection

Is the name of the exhibition opening 10 July at Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery, and the firs to focus on the passionate intimacy that existed between Lucian Freud (1922-2011), John Minton (1917-1957) and Adrian Ryan (1920-1998) – three gifted figurative painters striving and succeeding to build careers in a war-torn Britain when the art world functioned remarkably well.

Taking in their early work and ending with Minton’s death in 1957, the exhibition explores the relationships between these three talented but often troubled artists, whose initial closeness and deep affection gave way to bitterness and betrayal following Minton’s suicide.

Lucian Freud’s rejection of sentimentality can be seen in his disquieting masterpiece Girl with Roses, 1947-48; and in Dead Cock’s Head, 1951 – a particularly striking example of his early bird studies. Minton’s powerful and provocative Jamaican Village, 1951 – at once vibrant and uneasy, and his desolate 1940 painting The Kite both suggest anxiety and loneliness. Ryan’s Self Portrait, 1944 reveals the self-effacing nature that marred his curiously un-celebrated reputation, while Goat Meat suggests struggle and frustration.

Loans are supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

An Unholy Trinity brings together 50 paintings and works on paper alongside a previously unseen letter between Freud and Ryan from 1944. Penned on unevenly ruled lines in a spidery script, and featuring a small cartoon horse, it refers to Freud’s intention to visit Adrian and Peggy, his first wife, and also to Freud’s upcoming solo exhibition (his first) at the Lefevre Gallery. It may have been on this visit that Freud presented his friend with one of his early drawings, Chicken in a Bucket, which Ryan promptly copied in oils.

Further highlights include: a wooden box painted by Freud in 1937; Minton’s Portrait of Kevin Maybury, 1956, Landscape at Les Baux, 1939, and his Self-portrait of circa 1953; Ryan’s dramatic Nude among the rocks, Mousehole of 1946 and a Self-portrait of 1944 formerly owned by novelist Rosamond Lehmann.

The exhibition is a collaboration between Victoria Art Gallery in Bath and Falmouth Art Gallery. It is accompanied by a catalogue and a specially commissioned film by the Italian film maker Isaac Biglioli. The prize-winning author Reina James has contributed a unique astrological essay.

Unholy trinity’s guest curator is Julian Machin, whose work as a writer and curator, and as the biographer of Adrian Ryan, has given him a unique insight into the complex friendships and rivalries of the three artists.

Machin’s research reveals for the first time the extreme closeness and sexual intimacy of the threesome, confirmed by Ryan’s personal testimony. While Freud avoided any public acknowledgement of his sexual relations with Minton and Ryan, he also did not deny them.

Minton’s tragic death by suicide in 1957 deprived the art world of a talented painter and one of its most sociable players. It also severed the trinity and reinforced the separate paths that Ryan and Freud had already begun to follow.

Jon Benington – Manager of the Victoria Art Gallery

Jon Benington, Victoria Art Gallery Manager said: “This is the very first exhibition to bring together these three important 20th-century figurative painters, charting their social ups and downs and the development of their mature painting styles. With a series of stunning loans from national museums, the show promises to be one of the highlights of the summer season.”

Councillor Dine Romero, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Communities and Culture at Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “The exhibition will be a brilliant chance for local people to see works by these three well-known artists, borrowed from major collections around the country, including the V&A, Tate and National Portrait Gallery. Tickets are free for local residents but must be booked online in advance. We’re grateful to the Weston Loan Programme and Art Fund for enabling the exhibition to come to Bath.”

Freud, Minton, Ryan – unholy trinity: 

Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, 10 July – 19 September 2021