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Artists Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud

British Painter

Movements: Expressionism, Neo-Expressionism, Realism, School of London

Born: December 8, 1922 - Berlin, Germany

Died: July 20, 2011 - London, England

Quotes

"My work is purely autobiographical. It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know. I use the people to invent my pictures with, and I can work more freely when they are there."
Lucian Freud
"Full, saturated colours have an emotional significance I want to avoid."
Lucian Freud
"The paintings that really excite me have an erotic element or side to them irrespective of subject matter."
Lucian Freud
"The only way I could work properly was by using the absolute maximum of observation and concentration that I could possible muster."
Lucian Freud
"A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure."
Lucian Freud
"What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince."
Lucian Freud
"I want paint to work as flesh...I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them. I didn't want to just get a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does."
Lucian Freud
"Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter, working with the object in front of them, do so in order to translate life into art almost literally, as it were. The subject must be kept under closest observation: if this is done, day and night, the subject - he, she or it - will eventually reveal the all without which selection itself is not possible: they will reveal it through movements and attitudes, through every variation one moment from another. It is this very knowledge of life which can give art complete independence from life, an independence that is necessary because the picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life..."
Lucian Freud
"All portraits are difficult for me. But a nude presents different challenges. When someone is naked, there is in effect nothing to be hidden. You are stripped of your costume, as it were. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves. That means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent their honesty. It's a matter of responsibility. I'm not trying to be a philosopher. I'm more of a realist. I'm just trying to see and understand the people that make up my life. I think of my painting as a continuous group portrait."
Lucian Freud

"Looking at humans with light streaming down on them is something I terribly liked."

Synopsis

Lucian Freud, renowned for his unflinching observations of anatomy and psychology, made even the beautiful people (including Kate Moss) look ugly. One of the late twentieth-century's most celebrated portraitists, Freud painted only those closest to him: friends and family, wives and mistresses, and, last but not least, himself. His insightful series of self-portraits spanned over six decades. Unusual among artists with such long careers, his style remained remarkably consistent. Perhaps inevitably, the psychic intensity of his portraits, and his notoriously long sessions with sitters have been compared with the psychoanalytic practice of his famous grandfather, Sigmund Freud.

Key Ideas

Unapologetically self-absorbed, Freud embodied a notion that comes to us from the Renaissance, and which has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: "Every artist paints himself." Freud remained aloof from his sitters, a rapport that comes through in his work, referring to the work as "purely autobiographical" and the people he painted as merely the vehicle for figurative innovations: "I use the people to invent my pictures with, and I can work more freely when they are there."
Freud was one of the founders of the so-called School of London, a group of artists dedicated to figurative realism, considered somewhat reactionary at the time because it eschewed the presence of avant-garde movements at the time, such as Minimalism, Pop, and Conceptual art. Compared with David Hockney, or even Francis Bacon, his contemporaries, Freud is stylistically conventional. The subject matter, however, is anything but.
While life drawing classes had long included nude models, the expressive detail with which Freud paints genitals sets him apart from other artists in the history of portraiture. With the analytic scrutiny and detail a botanical illustrator might devote to a rare flower, Freud paints primary and secondary sex characteristics.
Freud owes much to the early twentieth-century Expressionists. His pronounced, expressive strokes recall Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, and the tilted perspective and anthropomorphic depictions of chairs, shoes and other inanimate objects bring to mind Vincent van Gogh.
Freud was one of the great self-portraitists of the twentieth century. He painted himself obsessively. While it may lack the range of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, or Schiele, Freud's self-portraits form one of the most complete visual autobiographies of any twentieth-century painter, yielding insight into the self-absorption and relentless drive that fueled the artist.

Most Important Art

Reflection (Self-portrait) (1985)
Freud's self-portraits, an enterprise to which he returned frequently over the years, offer direct insight into his psyche. This is among the most famous, painted in 1985 when the artist was sixty-three years old. In contrast to the explicit nudity of his other portraits, here nudity is implicit (bare from the shoulders up). Whereas other sitters look ungainly and awkward, the level of self-possession in the pose here is typical of Freud's self-portraits. He squares his shoulders and looks out directly out as if to challenge the viewer. Breathtaking compositional mastery is evident in the matrix of strokes lavished on the face and the careful balance of light and shadow. Witness, for example, how the deep shadow under the chin and dark square in the upper corner seem to anchor the forms in space.

While unsparing in his inclusion of folds, wrinkles and other signs of aging, the face he describes is classically handsome, with an aquiline nose, strong jaw and expressive brows. Freud was good-looking, proud of it, and admitted that self-portraiture was the ultimate challenge. It is perhaps telling that the only individual Freud couldn't manage to make look bad was himself.
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Lucian Freud Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Lucian Freud was born into an artistic middle-class Jewish family. His father Ernst was an architect, his mother Lucie Brasch studied art history, and his grandfather was the paradigm-shifting psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In 1933, Freud and his family left Berlin to escape Hitler and settled in London.

Freud began making art - and exhibiting it - at a very early age. In 1938 one of his drawings was selected for a show of art by children at Peggy Guggenheim's London gallery. Though the artist was sixteen at the time, the drawing was from 1930, when Freud had been eight.

Early Training

Despite early talent, his unruly behavior resulted in him being forced out of multiple schools; once for dropping his pants in a public street. Serious art training began for Freud when he enrolled in the East Anglican School of Painting and Drawing, where many believe that his reckless discarding of a cigarette caused the school to burn down in 1939. In 1941 after a brief three months spent in the Merchant Navy, Freud finished his studies and by 1943 he had begun to paint seriously and created one of his first important paintings, The Painter's Room.

A brief period spent in Europe helped to influence Freud's work, in part when he befriended Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti while in Paris in 1946. Once home in London, he joined the staff of the Slade School of Art and began exhibiting in London galleries.

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Lucian Freud Biography Continues

Early on Freud established a lifestyle and artistic habits that he would continue throughout his career. He married the beautiful and well-connected Kitty Garman, the daughter of artist Jacob Epstein, but his infidelities quickly dissolved their marriage. Next was Guinness heiress Lady Caroline Hamilton Temple Blackwood, whom he glimpsed at her coming out party and formally met at a gathering hosted by Ann Fleming, wife of author Ian Fleming. Much to the disapproval of her parents, the relationship began while Freud was still married.

While charming, Freud had a volatile temper. He had a great intensity towards his work, which he put above all else; a factor along with his habitual infidelity that led to the failure of his many romantic relationships. He drew attention to himself wherever he went with his signature accoutrement/travel companion, a pet hawk, poised on his wrist or shoulder. The few hours a day he wasn't painting he spent dining, gambling, and lounging in the company of the fashionable British aristocrats, socialites, and artists, including fellow painter Francis Bacon, with which he had a great deal in common. The two greatly influenced each other until a falling out ended their friendship.

Mature Period

Lucian Freud in his studio at age 25 (1947)

Portraiture soon became the main subject of Freud's work. The process of sitting for a portrait by Freud was not an easy one and it often took months of multiple hour sittings for the artist to be satisfied. Despite a good relationship with his grandfather when he was young, and even later, sometimes choosing to wear Sigmund's coat when he was out in London, the artist attempted to avoid any such connection in interviews about his work, dismissing the psychoanalytic method and denying that it had any connection with his art.

By his own admission, Freud was an often absentee father. Many of his children realized that the best way to connect with him was through his art, so they posed for him as they got older, and had the patience to sit for as long as the exhausting sessions demanded.

Freud's approach to figuration, obsessive in its attempts to capture every detail and flaw, often led to the frustration of the sitter and Freud himself. His work matured in conjunction with the tools he experimented with in order to lessen this frustration, and a key technical breakthrough in mid-career hinged on a switch to stiffer hog-hair brushes that allowed him to apply paint more broadly, as well as the decision to stand while he worked. Freud stated, "My eyes were completely going mad, sitting down and not being able to move. Small brushes, fine canvas. Sitting down used to drive me more and more agitated. I felt I wanted to free myself from this way of working...." While sable brushes had applied the paint lightly, Freud's switch to a different kind of brush, and his standing up at his easel resulted in significant changes in technique and effect. By the 1960s his works were more painterly and layered, with heavier, freer strokes. It was also at that time that Freud began to focus on what he called "naked portraits", detailed nudes that were almost always unflattering. His depictions of his children remain the most controversial.

Later Period

Lucian Freud working (1969)

The late 1980s brought recognition on an international level. This was in part due to a 1987 retrospective and also his new representation by American art dealer William Acquavella who signed him after being impressed with a new series of nudes of performance artist Leigh Bowery, which he purchased on the spot. Later portraits by Freud include many famous subjects such as artist David Hockney, art critic Martin Gayford, and the British Queen Elizabeth II. In addition to painting on a large scale, near the end of his career Freud created many etchings, a process that he had also focused on during his early years as a student and artist.

Freud's reputation with women did not waver with age; a fact confirmed when in 2002 the British magazine Tatler listed the octogenarian as the second most eligible bachelor in the nation. Supermodel Kate Moss expressed her desire to meet him, resulting in a friendship and the artist painting her portrait. In 2004 the eighty-two year old artist created two portraits of his thirty-two year old art student girlfriend Alexandra Williams-Wynn, including The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer (2004-05) depicting her naked, and wrapped around the legs of the clothed artist at work in his studio.

Freud never relaxed his intense, obsessive painting practice. In referring to his decades-long routine of working all morning, breaking in the afternoon, and then painting again all evening, the artist stated, "I work every day and night. I don't do anything else. There is no point otherwise." Freud continued to work up to his death from bladder cancer at eighty-eight years old.


Legacy

Freud with his parrot, photo by David Dawson (published in 2012)

Freud's challenges to the conventions of portraiture have inspired legions of figurative painters. The alternate model for male representation established by his groundbreaking series of portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery laid the groundwork for other socially transgressive figurative painters, among them John Currin and Eric Fischl. The impact of Freud's raw and unapologetic approach to the nude lives on in the work of Jenny Saville, Elizabeth Peyton and Luc Tuymans.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Lucian Freud
Interactive chart with Lucian Freud's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Gustave Courbet
Otto Dix
Alberto Giacometti
George Grosz

Friends

Francis Bacon
William Acquavella

Movements

Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
New Objectivity
Realism
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
Years Worked: 1940 - 2011

Artists

John Currin
Eric Fischl

Friends

Francis Bacon
Martin Gayford

Movements

Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Realism
School of London

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and revised by Ruth Epstein
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Useful Resources on Lucian Freud

Books
Websites
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More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open

By Phoebe Hoban

Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud

By Martin Gayford

written by artist
Lucian Freud: Some Thoughts on Painting

By Lucian Freud

More Interesting Books about Lucian Freud
ART UK

A collection of 36 works

Lucian Freud, Figurative Painter Who Redefined Portraiture, Is Dead at 88

By William Grimes
The New York Times
July 21, 2011

Lucian Freud: marathon man

By Martin Greyford
The Telegraph
September 22, 2007

Freud, Interrupted

David Kamp
Vanity Fair
January 16, 2012

Naked Punch: Tate Britain celebrates Lucian Freud

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
July 8, 2002

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