Lucian Freud was born in 1922, and is now 85 years old. He’s Britain’s most famous figurative painter, and possibly its oldest, best known for his raw and unforgiving paintings of nudes.
Freud fascinates me for a few reasons, one being his utter devotion to capturing every harsh detail of a model. During the painting process (which can take hundreds of days), Freud will often go right up to the model and from inches away examine the colors and details of the flesh.
Then, moving back to his canvas, he’ll paint for just a few strokes before returning again to scrutinize his subject at close range. The amount of discipline that takes is incredible, especially in a world where art is often created quickly and with more focus on emotion or other intangibles, rather than reality.
Another interesting thing about Lucian Freud’s paintings is that much of his work is characterized by either obese models or very gaunt ones—opposite ends of the spectrum.
In either situation, Freud’s paintings always shows the effects of gravity very clearly. In some cases his figures almost seem pressed or pushed down by a great force.
The above image is a very “Lucian Freudian” painting as well. Freud never shrinks away from painting real people. In fact, I think he revels in his ability to paint them so perfectly, with all of their flaws and in all of their awkward nakedness.
My favorite painting by Freud is his self-portrait, titled Reflections.
You can see that Freud didn’t spare himself any of the scrutiny he gives to his models. If anything, he increased it.
Freud was 63 when he painted this self-portrait, and really just entering the prime of his painting career. I love the starkness of the painting and how his harshly lit, aging face jumps out to confront the viewer with a calculating, knowing gaze.
But take a look at this brushwork, too. The oil paint is thickly pressed onto the canvas, leaving raised bumps and rough patches that only serve to accentuate Freud’s craggy features.
Freud is not concerned with creating beauty in his paintings; no, instead he seeks to densely replicate the shape of the human body and thereby show the harshness of life.
Ultimately Freud’s paintings brush aside traditional themes of a noble humanity to get across his point of view. . . that deep down we are all naked, frail, and alone.
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