Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lucian Freud - on film, in words and ink

Images of Lucian Freud
pen and sepia ink in sketchbook

all images copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Robert Genn has included a Youtube Slideshow of the work of Lucian Freud on his current 'clickback' URL. Here's what he has to say about him in this morning's Painter' Keys letter
Lucian Freud (b.1922) is a German-born British painter with a brilliantly straight eye. His subjects include the abject, isolated, alienated and the thoughtful. Showing the fragility of the current human condition, plain truth mingles with stressed awkwardness. The obese, the elderly and the weak are examined without pity - many in sad resignation or outright depression. With Freud we observe the touch of human tenderness, the trusting beauty of animal bonding, the specter of immanent death and the plaintive hope for the morrow.
Do take a look. Freud is a quite remarkable painter with paintings in several museum collections. A futher slideshow can be seen here. (I really haven't a clue as to who created either site.)
'I paint people', Freud has said, 'not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be'.
I had the very great privilege recently of seeing two films about Lucian Freud directed and introduced by Jake Auerbach which were shown, to a packed house, at the Prince's Drawing School in late March. (Jake Auerbach is the son of Frank Auerbach, a friend of Lucian Freud for the last 50 years or so.)

The first film has only been screened once on BBC Omnibus and the second (longer) film has never previously been shown in the UK at all. They were both made in 1988 to coincide with the Freud retrospective at the Hayward Gallery (4h February - 17th April 1988). Freud has been rarely photographed and he'd never before been interviewed on camera.

In the BBC newsnight review of the later 2002 Freud Retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain, Mark Lawson starts by commenting that
Sigmund Freud was famous for explaining everything. Lucian never explains anything whatsoever. (Mark Lawson/BBC)
By way of contrast, the fims I saw were, I think, the first and last time Freud has ever been seen on film talking about his work. Here are some of the notes I made of some of the things he said. He aims to work with people who are not 'being models' because he wants to paint 'them' not a figure. His paintings of plants (an example) "nearly drove him round the bend" and made him feel like he was orchestrating a whole symphony.

He works in the daytime and at night but finds he sometimes sees much more in daylight. He works under a skylight and finds bright sun to be very challenging. Going to the National Gallery in London is for him a bit like going to the doctor - it's what you need to do when you're out of sorts and need some help. He likes almost everything Constable did - and the way he used people in his landscapes. And these are some quotations from the film.......
"I'm not very analytical"
"I'm self-questioning but only up to a point"
"I never think about technique, it holds you up"
"You have to paint on trust"
"I'm fairly immune from praise and abuse"
Freud has a fascinating face. He was 66 when filmed but actually looked younger. This is a self-portrait painted three years earlier. I tried drawing his head in pen and ink and you can see the results in this blog post. Bear in mind that my subject was moving, I didn't know when a pose would reappear and I was in the dark! Most are 'starts' only and the only one I got anywhere near developing fully has got a 'wonky' profile. What I'd call a "bit iffy".

See the links below for more images of his work and commentary on it.



  1. That video was a real treat, wasn't it? I do like your pen sketches of Freud, Katherine, particularly that one on the left at the top. I thought your link to the Freud plant painting was amazing - all that detail. No wonder it drove him mad. I guess you just have to break a subject like that down into small components and be very patient.

  2. Thanks for your post on Lucien Freud. I've seen a documentary about him where friends and family talked about the experience of being his model (probably it was one of the two films you saw). I didn't know a lot about Lucien Freud and what struck me was the intensity of the process - and the portraits. One of his daughters talked about how she would get to know him by sitting for a portrait for almost a year...
    Off to watch the slideshow now...

  3. The video which involves interviews with his models (but not with Freud himself)was made by the same chap Jake Auerbach.

    The two films I saw were the rough Director's cut of the footage from the Hayward (never been seen before) and the condensed version which was used for the Omnibus version - which is not available to buy or rent. So essentially two similar films. I saw the condensed version first and then the Director's cut which made it much more enjoyable.

  4. So glad you wrote about Freud, I love his work, in particular his sensitive color and brushwork.

    I do remember finding a podcast interview og Freud by the BBC some years ago. Did you find that?

  5. That may well have been all (or an extract from) the shorter film we saw fist which was made for the BBC Omnibus programme - but I'll check that out.


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