display | more...

Lucian Freud (1922-) : Unrelated to Sigmund Freud (IIRC), Lucien is a British painter with a distinct but changing style. His early works had the smoothness and character of Hockney paintings, but without the pop art subject matter or coloring. Later, he began slopping paint on the canvas thick, focusing on shape and shadow, creating some of the most wonderfully tactile portraits around.

Lucian Freud: Works since 1970

I want paint to work as flesh, I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having the look of the sitter, being them. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.

-Lucian Freud, quoted by John Russell

Grandson of the famous Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, Lucien was born in Berlin in 1922. In 1933, Freud’s family moved to England, and since then he has spent most of his life living in the London area. He has stayed away from formal artistic education, and has resisted association with artist-friendly groups and neighborhoods most of his life. His romantic life was often the subject of gossip, and had been married twice. Lucian seems to have inherited the elder Sigmund’s desire to look inside his subjects. He was also heavily influenced by the works of Francis Bacon.

Lucian Freud strives to avoid ‘shallow’ representation, instead concentrating on capturing the essence of his subjects in layer upon layer of oil paint. He shows a keen understanding of the mechanical support structure just below the surface of the human form, over which he drapes translucent layers of flesh, glowing as if imbued with the essence of life itself. In Night Portrait (1985-86) (Fig. 1) the bones and muscles of which the figure is built. Notice the prominent great trochanter and iliac crest and the angle of the pelvis itself, as well as the treatment of the model’s knees and the muscles and bones of her lower legs. In fact almost every part of her form telegraphs the form inside.

His clothed figures often show his attention to form-within-form. In Annabel Sleeping (1987-88) (Fig. 2) we can feel (and almost see) the model’s entire form just underneath the surface of her robe. Freud’s treatments of shade, especially in the fold’s of the robe’s cloth, are exceptional. With an application of color almost after Cézanne, he captures form in what seems a quick gesture of shade. Of course, given the amount of time Freud spends on each work, those quick strokes are undoubtedly carefully crafted applications of paint. For the same reason, it is clear why Annabel finds it so easy to sleep.

In other works, he takes our expectations and exploits them to generate visual interest. Two Men (1987-88) (Fig. 3) seems to be drawn from four or more perspectives. Compositional and substantive elements, including the nude and clothed model, the clothed man’s hand on the nude figure’s leg, their away-facing faces, and the fact that they are the same model in separate sittings, create narrative conflicts absent from his more situational-austere works.

He also manipulates the structure he knows so well, especially the shape of faces, in his portraits. He bends and stretches the jaw and cheek, often on the right side of the face, in an expressive gesture that could not have been in front of him while he was painting. (Figures to be determined.) He exploits our built-in facial recognition circuitry, so that we may not easily dismiss the face as just another. We are almost forced to explore the form he has chosen to render in greater detail than we might have otherwise, if only to understand what makes us uncomfortable.

His charcoal drawings as well as his etchings use a language far removed from the glowing light of his oil paintings. Though his 1985 Lord Goodman and 1986 Head of a Man suggest some of his normal depth of attention to character, they seem to speak more superficially. One sees a cursory exploration of a subject, perhaps to be explored to greater depths in a later painting. One cannot say for certain, as examples of such studies are not as readily available as they are for artists like Edward Hopper. However, he uses a technique in his etchings that bears mention. He draws lines indicating several forms, such as muscle or bone, then indicates shade with lines crossing forms, suggesting layers of color and shade we do not see in his charcoals.

So what can we take away from Freud’s artwork? Most applicable of Freud’s impressive skills is the use of underlying form. His works are not perfect representations, yet read as more living and feeling than a photograph. More important than perfect proportion, then, can be the understanding of what it is we draw.

No discussion of Freud would be complete without seeing The Painter’s Mother Dead (1989) (Fig. #), his charcoal sketch of his dead mother. What would his grandfather have to say about this piece?


  1. http://members.nbci.com/scatt/freud_femalenudes.html
  2. 71, 72, 76, 84
I'm still working on finding good images online.

A Brief Background

Lucian Freud has a formidable reputation as one of Britain’s most powerful, contemporary figurative painters – and is one of the best in the world today.

His bold, rich and dynamic style through his use of paint and colour set his work apart. His paintings are never without intense realism and incredible attention to detail, which has won him several awards – one of the 1951 Festival of Britain awards for his stunning Interior at Paddington.

In the 1940s, Lucian Freud had a short career as a skilful and talented etcher. He moved away from the medium for over thirty years and became renowned as a great realist painter. In 1982, he returned to printmaking, creating portraits and studies of the naked figure that achieved a comparable power and intensity to his paintings while carrying their own special magnetism.

In my opinion Freud is a modern master who was even commissioned to paint the Queen; a honour he completed in 2001.

In his own words

Art is by its nature wrought, however convincing it is. It has to do with artifice, which means an artist's ability to convey feelings that aren't necessarily ones the artist has himself; otherwise the most remarkable artists would also be the most virtuous and extraordinary people. I mean to say, the character of the artist doesn't enter into the nature of the art. Eliot said that art is the escape from personality, which I think is right. We know that Velàzquez embezzled money from the Spanish court and wanted power and so on, but you can't see this in his art.
By this, I think Freud wanted to demonstrate what he perceived as the divide between art and artist, creator and creation. This implies that artists are but a channel, translating powerful ideas into artistic creations. This was a view that was perhaps rare before Freud but he helped to promote it, and today some artists would agree that they are in a state of virtual helplessness, and are guided from outside during their greatest works.

Normally I underplay facial expression when painting the figure, because I want expression to emerge through the body. I used to do only heads, but came to feel that I relied too much on the face. I want the head, as it were, to be more like another limb.
This is another view that Freud endorsed, and again it is open to some debate. Freud argued that humans are so used to interpreting each other's facial expression that it has become automatic, thus losing some of its power and impact. Deprived of such facial clues to understand expression, the viewer of such art is forced to, as Freud says, facial expression "emerging through the body".

I remember Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do.
This quote speaks for itself. Freud was not interested in staying within his limits and producing art he knew would be accepted and popular. He wanted to push the limits of art and the limits of his own abilities. Thus one can see his style and abilities constantly evolving throughout his work.

I use the gallery as if it were a doctor. I come for ideas and help -- to look at situations within paintings, rather than whole paintings. Often these situations have to do with arms and legs, so the medical analogy is actually right. Do you know the old story about the strip-cartoon writer who goes on holiday? He leaves his hero chained up at the bottom of the sea with an enormous shark advancing from the left and a huge octopus approaching. And the man who takes over the job can't figure out how to get the hero out of danger, and after several sleepless nights, he finally sends a telegram to the writer, asking him what to do. And the telegram comes back: 'With one tremendous bound the hero is free.' Well, when I come here I'm looking for ways to get myself out of troubles that are self-made.
This shows Freud's approach to a gallery is rather different to that of many traditional artists, who would come for appreciation and more indirect inspiration. Freud, by contrast, sees the works of other artist's on an altogether different level to the one on which they were actually created and, on this level, is able to lift ideas "to do with arms and legs" wholesale and create vastly different pieces of work from them.

I don't use professional models because they have been stared at so much that they have grown another skin. When they take their clothes off, they are not naked; their skin has become another form of clothing.
I thought this was a good place to end this article, as it shows definitively how Freud sees life on a completely seperate level to many artists who came before him. In his paintings, he aims to capture true nudity, the unclad human form; the sense of exposure and weakness is integral to such an image and this cannot be capture from models for whom "skin has become another form of clothing."

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.