R.I.P. Lucian Freud (1922–2011)

“Standing by the Rags” (1988-89) oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of the artist.

Only just a few weeks ago did the world bid adieux to Cy Twombly, one of the greatest painters of the post war era. And now sadly this week, another great painter of the same period has passed at the age of 88, Lucian Freud drew his last breath on Wednesday at his home in London. While Twombly expanded the boundaries of Abstract Expressionism, Freud, in turn, re-appropriated figurative portraiture. Over a 60-year strong artistic career, Freud remained unyieldingly faithful to his genre of choice and was often compared to old masters such as Titan, Rembrandt, Ingres and Monet.

Born in Berlin as an offspring of the Freud dynasty, his father Ernest was the youngest son of Sigmund Freud. Lucian and his family moved to Britain in 1933. After briefly studying at Central School of Art, London and East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing as well as Goldsmiths College, London, he became a part of bohemian, Soho-based group of artists – The School of London, as R.Kitaj later would coin the collective – which included Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Leo Kossef and Kitaj himself.

“Interior With Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-Portrait)” (1967-68) Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

Freud’s early paintings showed a strong influence from German Neue Sachlichkeit painters like Georg Grosz, Otto Dix and sometimes flirted with surrealism by depicting people with animals and plants in uncanny settings. From the 1950s onward his work started converging on portraiture and most often nudes, frequently choosing his models from the people around his daily life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. By the 1970s, he had developed his own style of impasto, utilizing rich layers of colors to evoke the anatomy beneath the skin as well as the inner souls of his subjects.

“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995) oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

These piercing portraits and unnerving nudes ultimately made Freud into one of the most sought after artists of his time, epitomized by works such as “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995), which sold at auction for $33.6m, a 2008 record sum for works by a living artist. His uncompromising painting approach also made him a controversial figure, pushing his imagery to extremes. In earnestly pursuing his vision on canvas, this sometimes led to painstakingly long sessions for the sitters. In 2001, Freud divided critics with his rendition of a commissioned portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Some described the painting as “thought-provoking and psychologically penetrating” or “the best royal portrait in 150 years”, others however regarded it as “a traversity”. On the following year Tate gallery organized a major retrospective exhibition, most recently reiterated at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, 2010.

“Self portrait (Reflection)” (1985) oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

“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

Other related articles:
Lucian Freud obituary (The Guardian)
Lucian Freud a life in pictures (The Guardian)
Painter Lucian Freud dies aged 88 (BBC)
Lucian Freud, the man who revitalised the fine art of portraits, dies(The Independent)
‘Unrivalled interpreter of human flesh’ Lucian Freud Dies (Financial Times)
Lucian Freud, the foremost figurative artist of his generation, dies aged 88 (The Telegraph)
Lucian Freud Tribute (The Telegraph)
Lucian Freud: he was wise in his way – Art critic Martyn Gayford recalls a good friend and a great painter (The Telegraph)
Lucian Freud: Flesh and dust (The Economist)
Lucian Freud, Figurative Painter Who Redefined Portraiture, Is Dead at 88(The New York Times)
The Artist as Provocateur, Set in His Ways (The New York Times)
Remembering artist Lucian Freud (LA Times)
Lucian Freud: by appointment to high society (or was it the other way round?) (The Art Newspaper)
Le peintre britannique Lucian Freud est mort (Le Monde)
Lucian Freud, l’art grandeur nature (Le Figaro)
Le peintre Lucian Freud meurt à l’âge de 88 ans à Londres (Le Devoir)
Fallece Lucian Freud, el pintor de los desnudos carnales (El País)
Lucian Freud dies at the age of 88 in London (ArtObserved)
Lucian Freud, Painter of Radical Realism, Dies at 88 (Artinfo)

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