Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lucian Michael Freud

Girl with a white dog
oil on canvas
76.2 x 101.6 cm
Tate Gallery, London, UK
-Fair use-

"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 Michael Freud)

Lucian Michael Freud (1922-2011) was a German-born British painter, known for his work in portraiture and the nude. Sometimes called a realist, he painted in a highly individual style, which in his later years was characterized by impasto. He was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time. His works are noted for their psychological penetration, and for their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.

He was born in Berlin, a grandson of Sigmund Freud, the son of the architect Ernst Freud, and elder brother of the late broadcaster, writer and politician Clement Freud. He came to England with his parents to escape the rise of Nazism in 1931, and acquired British nationality in 1939. He was trained at the Central School of Art in London, where he was as much known for his unconventional behavior as for his drawing talent, and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham.

His earliest love was drawing, and he began to work full time as an artist after being invalided out of the Merchant Navy in 1942. In 1951 his painting won a prize at the Festival of Britain, and since then he built up a formidable reputation as one of the most powerful contemporary figurative painters. Portraits and nudes are his specialities, often observed in arresting close-up.

It was Freud's practice to begin a painting by first drawing in charcoal on the canvas. He then applied paint to a small area of the canvas, and gradually worked outward from that point. For a new sitter, he often started with the head as a means of "getting to know" the person, then painted the rest of the figure, eventually returning to the head as his comprehension of the model deepened. A section of canvas was intentionally left bare until the painting was finished, as a reminder that the work was in progress. The finished painting is an accumulation of richly worked layers of pigment, as well as months of intense observation. His subjects, who needed to make a very large and uncertain commitment of their time, were often the people in his life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. He painted fellow artists, including Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon. In May 2008 his painting was sold by Christie's in New York for $33.6 million, setting a world record auction price for a living artist.

He died in London on 20 July 2011 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery. He is rumored to have fathered as many as forty children although this number is generally accepted as an exaggeration. Fourteen children have been identified, two from Freud's first marriage and 12 by various mistresses. Freud and Guinness beer heiress and writer Lady Caroline Blackwood married in 1953 and divorced in 1959. She is said to have been the only woman who truly broke his heart. After their divorce, his friends noticed a change in him; he began drinking heavily and getting into fights. Francis Bacon became concerned that he was suicidal.