Reflection (Self-Portrait), 1985

Lucian Freud – Naked Truth

Growing up as the grandson of Sigmund Freud must have been an interesting psychology journey to say the least. Born in Berlin, Lucian Freud fled to London in 1933, and developed a distinct portraiture style that established him as the leading artist of his time.

During his lifetime, Freud transfigured the traditional and favored European portrait with confrontational and often critical portrayals of the sitter.  His stark interpretation and particular technique influenced many of the contemporary British artists today.

Lucian Freud - Head Of A Girl, 1976
Head Of A Girl, 1976

After being expelled from a few school and rumored to have burnt down the East Anglian School of Drawing and Painting in Dedham, Freud set up his studio in London.

His early style was often associated with the Surrealist movement, but quickly developed into his signature portrait style after observing the bold brushwork of his contemporaries like Francis Bacon.

Freud abandoned his structured and delicate technique in lieu of using distinguishable strokes and a muted palette.  He caused the viewer to focus on the subject matter instead of emotional association imbued by certain colors.

Freud’s subjects were stripped bare of their socials standings and usually literally naked as well. When they weren’t naked, Freud had a paralleled way of creating an uncomfortable dissent within his paintings.  The viewer felt as if you were invading on a troubled private moment; such as with “Reflection With Two Children.”

His paintings emphasized that significant subject matter can come from the acute observation of individuals and daily events.  Through his depictions we are forced to consider our own daily lives, sexuality, and laying our soul bare.

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To truly understand his subject and conduct his truthful inspection of character and morals, Freud would spend thousands of hours to complete one piece.   He required the sitter be there throughout the entire process, and created quite the mess due to his technique.

Freud’s notable and identifiable brush stroke was due to wiping his brush on a cloth after every stroke, and these great piles of accumulated cloth appeared in a few paintings during the late 1980’s.

As viewers, we are allowed to see the results of his technique, but more importantly his treatment of the studio.

Often in the background of his subjects are highly artificial studio set-ups, but he once again emphasizes the importance of the subject rather than the relationship they have to a room.  He creates the ability to see a moment in a studio where the sole purpose is for the relationship between artist and subject.

His final product is one of an intimate relationship with an emphasis on the loss of personal identity.

Lucian Freud - Leigh on a Green Sofa, 1993
Leigh on a Green Sofa, 1993

In 2008, Lucian Freud set a record at a Christie’s International New York auction for the $33.6 million sale of “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.”  His work has continually seen commercial auction success with “Woman Smiling” selling for $4.6 million in June of 2011.

His frank style and simple desire for naked truth were staples, which imprinted the minds of current contemporary artists and will influence many more to come.  In February of 2012 the National Portrait Galley brought together 100 of his greatest portraits for a large retrospective.

Lucian Freud - Girl in a Fur Coat, 1967
Girl in a Fur Coat, 1967


Further Reading:

Kate Moss and the £1million Lucian Freud tattoo

“Freud, Interrupted” in Vanity Fair

Lucian Freud, on His Last Day of Painting

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