Monday, January 30, 2023

Review: Lucian Freud - Plant Portraits at the Garden Museum

I went to see Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits at the Garden Museum in Lambeth this afternoon. It's an exhibition I've been meaning to go and see for ages. I even got there just after New Year - only to find they were having an extended seasonal break.

The exhibition is on until 5th March 2023 and the Garden Museum is open Monday – Sunday 10am – 5pm - and has an ace cafe! Entry to the Museum - which includes entry to the exhibition varies by status. I used my Art Fund pass and got in for £7.

Mostly small - but some larger artworks

Anyway, for those who like Lucian Freud here's a summary of the exhibition:

  • It's not a big exhibition
  • most of the artwork is either small or medium sized - but there are some larger paintings
  • However it displays a good range of the artwork he produced in relation to plant
    • produced at different ages
    • in different media
    • of different plants
For those who'd like to know more I did a VERY long post about Lucian Freud - paintings of plants and gardens back in 2018. This includes an inventory if all the paintings - in a timeline - with
  • notes about their context and location
  • links to where you can see them and
  • quotes by people - including Freud himself - about his paintings of plants and why he did them.
Below I've posted 
  • some more of the pics I took of the exhibition - with comments
  • videos made about paintings in the exhibition
  • links to more of my blog posts about Lucian Freud and his paintings / past exhibitions and [a
These are the childhood drawings of plants that he produced. His mother used to save all the artwork he produced as a child. It's amazing how some of the characteristic way he portrayed objects can be seen even at a very young age.

Childhood drawings and paintings

The next part of the exhibition, you can see in the first image above. This part includes a very fine but small painting of bananas on a tree.

Bananas by Lucian Freud
on loan from Southampton City Art Gallery

This was painted from life at Goldeneye, the home of Ian Fleming in Jamaica. Freud spent the tip painting banana trees on the estate.

Bananas is acutely observed and painted in precise, naturalistic detail. Freud said that the subject was a welcome release from portraits: "I noticed I switched away from people when my life was under particular strain...Not using people is like taking a deep breath of fresh air". Bananas was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1954 in a joint exhibition with Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon.
You can see more of his paintings of plants from Jamaica online - such as this one Plants in Jamaica which was sold at Sotheby's (but is not in the exhibition). 

This is a closeup of the one very large painting called "Two Plants".  Below it are the quotations I used in my 2018 post plus a video about the painting.

a crop of Two Plants by Lucian Freud
Tate Britain
In the mid-1960s Freud embarked on a series of paintings of botanical subjects, an interest that was anticipated in an earlier painting, 'Interior in Paddington' 1951. 'Two Plants' is rendered with meticulous precision and is perhaps Freud's most ambitious and most resolved expression of this theme. He began the painting in 1977 and it took three years to complete. Freud recalls that it provided a means of accustoming himself to the light of a new studio. He describes it as 'lots of little portraits of leaves', adding 'I wanted it to have a really biological feeling of things growing and fading and leaves coming up and others dying'. Gallery label 2004 
Dr Bernard Verdcourt of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, wrote (letter, 24 November 1982) that the climbing plant is Helichrysum petiolarum DC, and the plant at the bottom of the picture Aspidistra elatior Bl. James Kirkman told the compiler that both plants were indoors in the artist's studio, and that during the years when the painting was in progress both underwent changes, one of them nearly dying. Tate Britain catalogue entry 

Portraits of individual plants - and gardens near his studio.

Some of the art concerns individual plants in isolation. They seemed to me to be almost an exercise in working out how to paint a plant simply but clearly.

There is one partly finished painting - what I'd refer to as "a start" which had a label saying the plant could not be identified. It struck me that this was because the painting had been sent by art people (who did not know plants) to plantsmen (who did not know how paintings work). To me it's very obviously a begonia - minus the detail. So I told them what I thought it was - and suggested they got a begonia lover to take a look - and told them where they might find one!

The paintings of the gardens are interesting as they are in no way a conventional garden. I think Freud liked them as they were, in effect, a visual puzzle which needed to be worked out. He painted urban wastelands and liked his own garden to become dense and overgrown with plants

This is a video from the exhibition website about his paintings of gardens

Lucian Freud: Wasteground, Paddington (1970) from Garden Museum on Vimeo.

A corner of the exhibition is devoted to cyclamens which Freud apparently loved.

The cyclamen mural in a bathroom at Chatsworth is also reproduced and you can also see the cyclamen he painted at Combe Priory in the mirror. Below it you can view the video created about the cyclamen which plays in the exhibition

Paintings of cyclamen by Lucian Freud


A wider view of the exhibition 

REFERENCE: Lucian Freud

You can read more about Lucian Freud and his paintings in past exhibitions in other posts on this blog.






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