Friday, July 22, 2011

Lucian Freud (1922-2011) - an appreciation

"Man at night" (1947-48)
The self-portrait on the cover of "Lucian Freud - on Paper"
"Britain's greatest living painter" has died.

Lucian Freud OM, CH - regarded by many as the UK's best figurative painter and portrait artist - died peacefully in his own home in London on Wednesday night age 88.

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1922, he had been painting for over 70 years.  In 1933 he moved to London with his family to escape the Nazis.

His artwork showed early promise and he had his first one man show in 1944.  His latest exhibition was at the Pompidou Centre in 2010.  Given his great age, he has already had a number of retrospective exhibitions.  I think we can be assured that the planning for another one will be getting underway in the near future.

This is an appreciation of the man and his work - in his own words, the words of his subjects, his friends, those he worked with in the art world and those who reviewed him

Lucian Freud - in his own words

One of his great characteristics is he found his own way of painting and resolutely stuck to what he wanted to do and refused to follow the trends.

On what his work is "about"
My work is purely autobiographical.. It is about myself and my surroundings. I work from people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I know.
Lucian Freud
On process

Freud painted from life - and at length.
The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real. 
Lucian Freud
On portraiture and painting people

He was committed to observation and was uncompromising in how he painted.
I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.
Lucian Freud

Since the model... is not going to be hung up next to the picture... it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy... The model should only serve the very private function for the painter of providing the starting point for his excitement.
Lucian Freud
On self-portraiture

This is a link to one of his self-portraits Reflection (2002), which was included in the 2002 exhibition at the Tate and which can be seen on the Internet.
Painting myself is more difficult than painting people, I've found.
Lucian Freud
On artistic challenges

He also challenged himself when he painted
Perhaps when you have the sort of temperament that is always looking for flaws and trouble it might stop you from having what you always want, which is to be as audacious as possible. One has to find the courage to keep on trying not to paint in a stale or predictable way
Lucian Freud
On what makes art interesting

This was suggested by his great friend William Feaver to be an appropriate epitaph
The only thing that's interesting about art present or past is quality. The whole mystery of art is why good things are good.
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud - in the words of his subjects

It took what seemed like forever for him to finish a painting. In part the process used to involve Freud talking to the sitter and getting them to reveal information about themselves.  He, in turn, reciprocated and Freud would share information and stories with his sitters.
Long though the process sometimes was, I invariably looked forward to seeing him.

The reason -- a point that not all observers of his art might have guessed -- was that Lucian was tremendous fun. He was charming, witty and intelligent. And fueling that charm and wit was a unique point of view on the world.

Martin Gayford
Martin Gayford's book Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud provides a rare insight into how Freud worked.  He's written a "portrait of the artist" about his experience of what it's like to be a Freud sitter - and I highly recommend it if you want to understand the man and his art better.

Gayford spent 150 hours sitting for his portrait and the etching which followed.  Freud probably revealed more to Gayford than he has ever revealed before.  You can also listen to a short and informayive BBC radio podcast by Martin Gayford talking about his experience of sitting for Freud (the interview starts at 19:23 - just move the round time marker along to that point.)
To paint, he wears a makeshift apron made out of rags that he leaves lying around the studio, like — as David Hockney observed when he sat for Freud, “a butcher”. This receives the bulk of the paint stains, but some spot his trousers and shirt. At times, with his sharp gaze, aquiline features and brushes protruding like quills from his palette, he looks a little like a gigantic bird.  
Martin Gayford  
Sittings were done in sessions in the morning, afternoon or evening - over months. David Dawson, his assistant was very familiar with what mattered to Freud.
Punctuality is a big thing for Lucian
David Dawson
Freud's painting was also a very physical job.  Although very thin, wiry and light on his feet, he used to be on his feet for 10 or 12 hours a day into his eighties.  Footwear was important!

His studio was in a house
He paints in a Georgian House, it's on the first floor, the rooms are not huge, it's very domestic, has very human feel for it.  The rags are there for him to clear his brushes. The pieces of furniture are only in the room as needed for his models to sit on, every piece of furniture has a use.
Lucian Freud
Freud frequently painted his family and friends. He also painted artist's models and his assistant David Dawson - and some people who were not.

David Hockney spoke about his experience of sitting for Freud in Jake Auerbach's documentary to mark the 2002 retrospective at Tate Britain
What's he's doing is so layered, photographs can't get near it
David Hockney
Sue Tilley ("Big Sue"), who modelled for Benefits Supervisor Sleeping which was sold for £17.2 million in 2008 breaking records for the most expensive painting by a living artist ever auctioned, was interviewed and talked about her experience
The painting took nine months, but that was about two or three days a week. When I started, I got £20 a day. I don't mind though. The best thing was I got lovely lunches. I got taken to the River CafĂ© most weekends. It was worth it for that.  

Money's not really important. Don't you think in life sometimes experience is more important than financial gain? Because of this painting I've had fantastic experiences.
Sue Tilley (Big Sue)
Another model commented
We talk about current exhibitions, art and artists and he tells me stories about his life, which are fascinating.
Perienne Christian
Lucian Freud in the words of his friends in the art world

Watch this video of Author John Richardson and art dealer William Acquavella discuss the work of their friend, artist Lucian Freud.  It comes highly recommended by me.
''He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world."
William Acquavella (his art dealer)

''His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.'' 
Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate Gallery
Lucian Freud in the words of the curators, art critics and auction houses

Not everybody was a fan - but he certainly attracted a lot of fans and a lot of art collectors.

I know I only slowly came to appreciate Freud and his work.  It's perhaps his independence of spirit and dedication to observation and getting to the truth of his subject which I most admire.
Freud is...a genuine national treasure
Robert Hughes
He has certainly divided critics. The ones who don’t appreciate him find his work hard to look at and a bit out of step with what is going on in the rest of the world. They have a hard time categorizing it
Starr Figura (curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York)
He certainly is considered one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries
Brett Gorvy (Christie’s)
One wonders who will now lay claim to his title as the UK's greatest living painter and portrait artist.......

[Update:  Charley Parker (Lines and Colors) has also done an appreciation - with images - see Lucian Freud]

Links to previous blog posts about Lucian Freud:

If you're interested in finding out more, try Lucian Freud - Resources for Art Lovers my compendium website which was updated last night and this morning with links to the major obituaries in the UK and USA. It shares information about the art of Lucian Freud - museums and art galleries, exhibitions and websites where you can see his work, books and articles about his artwork and his life and other resources for artists wanting to improve their knowledge about Freud, his views on art, his techniques and reviews by others of his work. It also contains links to all the sources for the abovementioned quotes.


  1. Just recently read the Man with a Blue Scarf. During the sittings, he was described as full of ideas and in a hurry to accomplish a lot... Where are his works on show in London these days?

  2. You've written a tremendous obit here, Katherine. Thank you.

  3. what a comprehensive and interesting post...thanks...i really enjoyed reading it!!

  4. great post about a very powerful and gifted artist


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