Friday, December 21, 2007

Lucian Freud: the Painter's Etchings - at MOMA

A page from the online exhibition of "Lucian Freud: the Painter's etchings",
Museum of Modern Art, New York

The image shows William Acquavella, Freud's agent (L) sitting for and talking to Lucian Freud in his studio with the copperplate for etching "New Yorker 2006" in front of him on his easel
see credits on site for details of image

Little did I realise, sitting this side of the pond, that when I posted about the video discussing Freud's work and portraiture process, that an exhibition of his work was to open 3 days later in New York at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The show is called Lucian Freud: the Painter's Etchings. It opened in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the 3rd floor on December 16th and runs until March 10. Its website at MOMA provides details of the exhibition plus details of the associated events in January and February. I wish I could go!
One of the foremost figurative artists working today, Lucian Freud (British, born Germany 1922) has redefined portraiture and the nude through his unblinking scrutiny of the human form. Although best known as a painter, etching has become integral to his practice. This exhibition will present the full scope of Freud's achievements in etching, including some seventy-five examples ranging from rare, early experiments in the 1940s to the increasingly large and complex compositions created since his rediscovery of the medium in the early 1980s.
You can view the works in the exhibition in a very well developed virtual exhibition (see example page above). If you are interested in Freud, drawing or etching or then I highly recommend viewing this very slowly and clicking all the links. They provide access to some comments by Freud which serve to indicate how and why he works as he does. The online exhibition also includes uncommonly large images with lots of detail, for example, from Freud or his sitters talking about the process works to notes about how the work came about. It's really great to be able to enlarge to see his mark making. The pages on which the painting and print are juxtaposed side by side are particularly interesting. The more you keep looking the more you find to see and hear. I'd like to congratulate the curatorial staff and website design team for a job well done.
Note: the recommended screen resolution is 1024 x 768 or higher and that the site requires the Flash 8 plug-in or higher and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Flash 9 is recommended for optimal viewing.

The exhibition looks at the scope of his practice in etching and the relationship between his paintings and his etchings and in particular at:
  • the time line associated with Freud's etchings. Interestingly he first did etchings in the 1940s and then stopped completely for 34 years before rediscovering the etching process again in 1982. It's now a constant part of his practice and he completes an etching as well as a portrait in oils - although this is the subject of a separate set of sittings with each subject.
  • the etching process and comments on his etching technique. In particular the fact that he usually works on the plate placed as if it were a canvas on his easel. Inspection of various images shows something of how he works. The virtual exhibition allows some stunning close-ups of small parts of the work. I couldn't find a way to choose which bit this was - which was frustrating but it's interesting nevertheless.
  • Freud's subjects - in groups - portrait heads; naked portraits and other subjects (ie the whippets and the garden). The website makes it possible for you to see images grouped according to the subject. His subjects are always people he knows well - and yet the titles do not always describe who the person is.
This summer I saw one of the prints of "New Yorker" taken from the plate that is being worked on in the image at the top of this post. My catalogue from the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy tells me that it's one of an edition of 46 and that its price this summer was £23,100. I've got a note against the catalogue entry which says "lots of small hatching marks". If you want to see it, it's about fourth from the end of the Portrait Heads section in the online exhibition. It's followed by the painting of William Acquavella.

The exhibition includes the painting of the Chardin painting in the National Gallery in London which was referred to in the video which I posted about last week - plus the etching that was made of the same subject. I think I actually prefer the etching.

In fact, maybe because I love drawing, I find myself looking longer at his etchings than his paintings. Maybe because I'm more familiar with the process of trying to find methods of mark making which are appropriate for the subject, the lighting and the values. Maybe because I like looking at how he chooses to crop and place his subject on the page and what choices he makes about how he handles the background. I know I'm intrigued by the variety of marks he makes from long sinewy lines to short regular hatching marks which follow contours or systematically surround a subject.

It's fascinating to see his copperplate placed on his easel as if it were a canvas and to learn that etching has almost entirely replaced drawings in the works he now produces. (I also rather liked seeing inside his studio - with what looks remarkably like a tea chest acting as a flat surface - and the views of the overgrown undergrowth of the garden at the rear of his studio which has been the subject of a number of his paintings.)

The exhibition catalogue (see right) is written by Starr Figura, the Assistant Curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books. It.....
includes more than 70 etchings-from the artist's rare early experiments of the 1940s to the increasingly complex compositions he has created since rediscovering the medium in the early 1980s-juxtaposed with some 23 paintings and 7 drawings. Includes 120 color illustrations
The catalogue is available to buy or order from the MOMA shop. I'm rather hoping it might make the trip across the Atlantic and turn up in the Tate modern bookstore (although having just checked I've found it's possible to buy it through Amazon although delivery takes 3-5 weeks.)

For the next two weeks, those interested in drawing and who are going to be in New York have the opportunity to take some time out and have a really excellent time visiting two exhibitions of work by two great artists - Seurat and Freud - and how they choose to communicate through drawing in different mediums.



Papierflieger said...

Thank you for this interesting post Katherine. I like the etchings of Freud a lot. This online exhibition is the first one that deserves this designation in my opinion. Really good web design! said...

I had no idea of the exhibit either, so this is great, K, thanks! So glad to see some of it online. Your research and detail on printmaking lately has been a delight.

Lindsay said...

Thanks so much for this very inspiring post. Your article has inspired me to begin a new project this year based on portraiture.

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