Lucian Freud, the figurative painter whose portrait work always showed his subjects carrying the full weight of gravity on their bodies, has died, aged 88. He was at home, and had been suffering from an as-yet unknown illness.
His work, while highly regarded enough to guarantee huge prices at auction, divided opinion, not least when he was invited to paint a portrait of the Queen in 2001. The finished piece gave her face a pensive, disapproving expression, as if she had just spotted a foreign diplomat wiping his hands on an ancient tapestry.
Born in Germany, Lucian – who is the grandson of Sigmund Freud – came to Britain in 1933, and aged 11 years old, to escape the persecution of the Nazis. His schooling was sporadic, as is often the case when yours is not the language of the classroom. He once boasted, “I was very solitary. I hardly spoke English. I was considered rather bad tempered, of which I was rather proud.”
But having discovered a talent for art, he knuckled down, attending several art schools including Goldsmiths in London, and after a brief flirtation with surrealism, eventually hit upon a style of portraiture in which he used the character of the paint – applied with thick hogshair brushes, which were often cleaned after every stroke – as an exploratory tool to unveil something of the psychology of his subject.
“I would wish my art to appear factual, not literal,” he said.
As well has his celebrated nudes, and the series devoted to his mother, he painted portraits of fellow artists; Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Leigh Bowery. He also painted a series of portraits of Kate Moss.
Art critic David Lee told the Mirror: “The astonishing thing about him was that in an age when artists make a fortune having other people do their work he painted his own pictures. In an age when conceptual art ruled the roost he was a great anomaly, almost as if he was the acceptable face of figurative art.”
How far we can stretch that word ‘acceptable,’ given Lucian’s clear feelings of disgust towards the media and celebrity in general (and indeed his own family at times) is now a moot point. What we’re left with is his body of glorious work.