"I want paint to work as flesh... my portraits to be of the people,
not like them. Not having a 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
Lucien Freud's artwork makes a very valid statement in its almost frightening, painterly realism. He is the son of Jewish parents Ernst Ludwig Freud, an architect, and Lucie née Brasch. Lucien Freud is the grandson of Sigmund Freud, brother of the late broadcaster, writer and politician Clement Raphael Freud and of Stephan Gabriel Freud, and uncle of radio and television broadcaster Emma Freud. Lucian was born in 1922 and along with British artists such as Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff, and Frank Auerbach, rose from obscurity to pick up the pieces of English art in the aftermath of destruction following WW II.
Lucien Freud's early paintings are often associated with surrealism and depict people, plants and animals in unusual juxtapositions. These works are usually painted with relatively thin paint, but from the 1950s Lucian Freud began to paint portraits, often nudes, to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, employing a thicker impasto. With this technique Lucien Freud would often clean his brush after each stroke. The colors in these paintings are typically muted. Often Freud's portraits depict only the sitter, sometimes sprawled naked on the floor or on a bed or alternatively juxtaposed with something else, as in Girl With a White Dog (shown here) Freud's subjects are often the people in his life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. To quote the artist: "The subject matter is autobiographical, it's all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really."
Born in Berlin on 8 December 1922, Lucian Freud moved to Britain in 1933 with his parents after Hitler came to power in Germany. His father, Ernst, was an architect; his mother the daughter of a grain merchant. Freud became a British national in 1939. He started working as a full-time artist after being invalided out of the merchant navy in 1942, having served only three months. Freud enrolled at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, Dedham, run by Cedric Morris. Apart from a year in Paris and Greece, Lucien Freud spent most of the rest of his career in Paddington, London, an inner-city area whose seediness is reflected in Freud's often somber and moody interiors and cityscapes.
In the 1940s Lucien Freud was principally interested in drawing, especially the face, as in Naval Gunner. Lucian Freud began to turn his attention to painting, however, and experimented with Surrealism, producing such images as the Painter's Room (shown here), which features an incongruous arrangement of objects, including a stuffed zebra's head, a battered chaise longue and a house plant, all of which survived his Surrealist phase and appeared separately in later paintings. Lucien Freud was also loosely associated with Neo-Romanticism, and the intense, bulbous eyes that characterize his early portraits show affinities with the work of other artists associated with the movement, such as John Minton, whose portrait he painted in 1952
It was the mid-1960s when Lucian Freud discovered the nude figure. There has never been a strong tradition of painted nudes in British art. And Freud's nudes would have been out of step with them in any case. His female figures are not "pretty." In fact the term "nude" is too pretty to describe them. They are unabashedly naked and certainly not attractive in the traditional context of French, Spanish, or Italian painting. His 1989 painting, Standing by the Rags,(shown here) is a prime example.
The woman is fiftyish, somewhat overweight, and sags in all the wrong places. She leans tiredly against an enormous pile of what appears to be dirty laundry, though in this case Freud's loosely realistic handling of the many shades of whites, tans, and grays are the most intriguing, not to mention the most attractive part of the painting. The flesh tones have the same range, from ruddy in the figures lower extremities to cold and bluish in her midsection.
Her head seems a bit small, her feet almost grotesquely large. Quite apart from the naked woman, the (Sigmund) Freudian sexual overtones are everywhere with suggestions of angels’ wings amongst the rags near her shoulders along side male and female sexual elements discernible elsewhere in the pile.
It's a painted Rorschach test as endlessly fascinating as it is repulsive. One has to wonder what Lucien's grandfather might have though of his grandson's work and the long shadow he cast upon it.