Lucian Freud's long-standing feud with fellow East Anglian artist Denis Wirth-Miller to feature on BBC One's Fake or Fortune
PUBLISHED: 12:01 13 July 2016
The bitter feud between two of the region's famous artists is set to be exposed in a documentary this week.
Lucian Freud and Denis Wirth-Miller trained together at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Hadleigh but reportedly became fierce rivals.
Their mutual dislike was said to be so great that Freud, grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund, spent decades denying that he painted a picture owned by Wirth-Miller, just to scupper his plans to sell it.
Wirth-Miller and his partner Richard “Dickie” Chopping, who lived in Wivenhoe prior to their death, found Man in a Black Cravat sometime during the Second World War.
However, Freud, who referred to his contemporary as “Worst Miller”, denied it was his work, and apparently contacted auction houses to prevent its sale.
Freud, who died in 2011, once held the title of most valuable living artist, when his Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, sold for $33.6m in 2008. Man in a Black Cravat would be worth around £500,000 if proved genuine.
Fake or Fortune, which airs on BBC One this Sunday, aims to prove the provenance of the painting once and for all.
Art expert Jon Lys Turner, a friend of the couple, who gave him the disputed portrait in 1997, says Wirth-Miller told him to show Freud had lied about it.
“I want you to sell this picture as publicly as possible. I want you to humiliate Lucian Freud,” Mr Turner recalled him saying, in an interview with Radio Times.
Mr Turner asked one of Freud’s children, the novelist Rose Boyt, to ask her father to confirm its authenticity.
She told Fake or Fortune: “I didn’t want to, because he would probably put his fist through it. He hated the intrusion of people asking, ‘Did you do this or not?’
“I thought if he hadn’t identified it in the normal course of things that meant he didn’t want to because it was stolen, it wasn’t by him or he hated it.”
Mr Turner said he would probably sell the painting if it turned out to be genuine.
“Then I’d have fulfilled my pledge,” he said. “It wasn’t about the money for Dickie and Denis. It was a matter of honour. For them, it was about the feud.”