'Then, just as he reached the step of the landing, the ball bounced towards the staircase and almost into his hands. He tried to catch it, his body swung forward in a circle - like a doll lurching on its circular weighted base - and bounced the ball round with him. But at last he caught it, cupping his left hand over it, clasping the banister still with his right. The little boy stood alone in the bare corridor and watched him curiously'
(W. Sansom, The Equilibriad, London 1948, p. 16).
A Walk to the Office depicts with immense graphic clarity and subtle tonal variations, a startled, be-suited young man grasping at an ornate iron balustrade, halted in his stride by something just out of sight. Executed in 1948, there is precision in the young Lucian Freud's drawing, but also discreet distortions of form, which subtly manipulate the path of the viewer's gaze. Employing the technique of contre-jour to great effect, Freud has used the full spectrum of dark and light made possible with the softest conté crayon on white paper and a deftness of touch. Just as in his other works on paper directly contemporary to this, such as Ada and Startled Man: Self-Portrait, 1948, we see in almost tangible detail the weighty fall of draped cloth, light glancing off swept back hair, and sensitively described bone structure. White highlights, most carefully and discreetly picked out in the folds of the man's clothes, sculpt depth into the form. By emphasizing even the slightest tonal variations Freud has given his subject an unquestionable intensity, while crisp delineations structure the forms into a bold and dynamic design. The composition too is balanced and strong; the ornamental iron work on the balcony has been deliberately simplified into a decorative pattern, framing the figure's legs and drawing our eye up via the thick dark line of the lapel towards the finely depicted face. The delicate but firm contours of the figure and the confident assurance of his line are a clear demonstration of what an accomplished draughtsman the young Lucian Freud was even in the earliest years of his career. Highly finished, it displays the sophisticated mix of technical mastery and independent spirit that lead Herbert Read a few years later to dub Freud 'the Ingres of existentialism' (H. Read, quoted in Lucian Freud: On paper, London 2008, p.25).
A Walk to the Office is one of five exquisitely rendered drawings that the young Lucian Freud made in 1948 to illustrate William Sansom's novella, 'The Equilibriad'. Depicted with an incredible attention to detail that belies the pride the young artist took in this commission, Freud's five drawings for 'The Equilibriad' accompany the tale of a man who awakens to find he has lost control over his movements and can only walk at a forty-five degree angle. The first illustration in the story, A Walk to the Office is shown opposite the passage in the story that describes the moment when the protagonist, Paul, encounters a young boy playing with a ball on his balcony. The ball bounces towards him, but his body swings in a circle as he tries to catch it 'like a doll lurching on its circular weighted base' (W. Sansom, The Equilibriad, London 1948, p. 16). When he eventually manages, he grips the banister firmly while his other hand grasps the ball. Freud has captured the instant that triumph after physical exertion gradually fades to anxiety, as the boy's 'lips loosen themselves, as though he were about to cry' (W. Sansom, The Equilibriad, London 1948, p. 16) and Paul registers the reaction that his peculiar behavior has provoked. All the drawings for the book were done from life, or from Freud himself as with the extraordinary Startled Man: Self-Portrait, which appears later on in the book. The model for A Walk to the Office was an architect acquaintance of Freud's, and the balcony was attached to Freud's studio at Delamere Terrace in Paddington, overlooking the Grand Union Canal.
Although lucid and direct, A Walk to the Office is a far from obvious interpretation of a scene. Illustrated books had appealed to Freud from childhood, and the poets and novelists that he collaborated with at the start of his career seemed only to fuel and inform his natural pictorial instincts. Freud drew obsessively until the early 1950s, seeing it as an independent activity, and much more than just a preparatory stage for painting. Indeed, the complete attention that Freud has focused on the drawings from this series, notably in the highly atmospheric Ada, are demonstrative of the meticulous nature of Freud's work of the late 1940s. He was scrupulous about detail, and, regardless of medium, he was preoccupied by capturing differences in texture and exploring the impact of dramatic lighting. Freud later described how disciplined he was with himself at this early point in his career. 'I would work on a part (of a work) until I got it how I thought it should be and then move to another part. I didn't go over the same area very often. I did it until I got it rightI was afraid that if I didn't pay very strict attention to every one of the things that attracted my eye the whole painting would fall apart. I was learning to see and I didn't want to be lazy about it.' (L. Freud quoted in Lucian Freud: portraits, London 2012).