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Lucian Freud the Merciless Realist

Lucian Freud, who died in 2011, aged 88, is widely regarded as having been the greatest modern British portrait painter,

Freud was born in Germany in 1922, the grandson of the psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, and came to England with his family as a young boy, to escape Nazi persecution. His teenage years saw him expelled from school for disruptive behavior, and from those early days onward, he followed in his personal life the path of the eccentric artist who refuses to be bound by conventional norms of behavior. His marriages and romantic affairs were numerous, and there was a well-known rumor that he had fathered 40 children. Although that was probably a wild exaggeration, he is known to have had at least fourteen offspring, two by his first wife and the remaining twelve by various lovers over the years.

From the 1950s onwards, Freud was primarily a portraitist, often painting his models nude. These paintings are more accurately referred to as ‘nude portraits’ than as simply ‘nudes’. The emphasis was never on perfection of form, but on capturing the physical reality and personal essence of the sitter, as the painter saw him, or more often, her. Sometimes his works depicted the sitter alone, filling the whole canvas, sometimes the sitter would be juxtaposed with an animal or some details of a domestic scene.

Freud did not work in isolation, using previous sketches or photos of his sitters. The sitters had to be present at all times until the portrait was complete, including the painting of the background, and that could involve an extraordinary length of time. The painter was intent on capturing the whole of the person sitting for him, and he went about the task methodically for just as long as it took. He said he only knew he was finished with a work when ‘he had the feeling that he was working on someone else’s painting’.

His method was to begin with a charcoal sketch, then to make a start of painting the head, to get a feel for his subject, then to work outwards to cover the canvas, before returning to the head once more. One of his paintings is recorded as having taken 2400 hours over a period of 16 months to complete: that averages out at a 37 and a half hour week, during which the artist and the subject were closeted alone together. Luckily Freud had a reputation as an entertaining talker, so at least the models had some distraction from the difficult task of remaining completely still for such a long time.

Freud was known for the attention he paid to the various tones of skin, and his eye for the blotches and imperfections which occur on most Caucasian complexions was acute and merciless. It is perhaps surprising in view of the nature of his work that he was allowed to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Second, even though, unusually, he asked whether he could paint her, rather than being commissioned to do so. The end result, a naturalistic portrait of a tired old woman, divided the critics.

One of the best known of Freud’s later works was his massive nude portrait entitled ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’. This portrait of a very fat lady, Sue Tilley, was completed in 1995 and sold in 2008 for a record-breaking 33.6 million dollars. No work by a living artist had previously achieved such a price.

Freud was the archetypal artist: unconventional, intense, and dedicated to his vocation. He is also said to have had great personal charm. Probably nobody else has ever produced such intensely individual, highly worked and unflinchingly realistic portraits.
About Author Rubel Zaman :

The Other Art Fair is an artist-led art fair based in London.  Stay up to date by viewing following the <a href="!/TheOtherArtFair" target="_blank">other art fair</a> on Twitter and check out a preview of the previous exhibition from Dazed Digital: <a href="" target="_blank">the other art fair</a>

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Article Added on Saturday, April 13, 2013
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