Tuesday, 6 March 2012


...is the current Lucian Freud exhibition that opened at the National Portrait Gallery last month. This is an excellent examination of the late masters whole career, focusing on portrait painting for which he was most famous.
This thorough show explores Freud's portraits roughly chronologically from his stylised early work right through to his last painting, Portrait of the Hound, that Freud was working on just before he sadly died last year.

This very early work below, Peter Watson (1941), was painted when the artist was just 19 and is unique in this exhibition in terms of its style. It has an almost cartoon-like quality, on both the figure in the foreground and on the artwork in the background. Also there are small (human and animal) figures that Freud has scratched into the oil at the base of the work that could be a kind of graffitti on the chair(?) that the subject stands behind, although this is hard to see in my photo below.

Peter Watson (1941) (Oil on canvas)

Another work that was painted in a flat 2-Dimensional way that also gives it a cartoon-like quality is Woman with a Daffodil (below).

Woman with a Daffodil (1945) (Oil on board on canvas)

Along with the previous two works, I like the style of these next three paintings that depict Freud's first wife Kitty Garman (the daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein). I find it interesting that Freud paints the kitten looking at the viewer with Garman looking away in Girl with a Kitten.

Girl with a Kitten (1947) (Oil on canvas)


Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947) (detail) (Oil on panel)

Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947) (detail) (Oil on panel)

The sheer brilliance of Freud's ability to capture detail using more simple medium is evident in these next two works:

Christian Berard (1948) (Black and white Conte on Ingres paper)

The Painters Father (1970) (Pencil on paper)

The eyes of Freud's subjects are often prominent in his portraits, as is the case in these next three 'soft' paintings that all have just the right amount of colour and detail in them:

Girl with Beret (1951-52) (Oil on canvas)

Head of a Child (1954) (Oil on canvas)

Girl in bed (1952) (Oil on canvas)

The two works immediately above and below are of Freud's second wife Caroline Blackwood. I wonder if the obvious 'distance' between Freud and Blackwood in Hotel Bedroom was a reflection of the trouble they were to have with their marriage?

Hotel Bedroom (1954) (Oil on canvas)

Aside from sometimes painting self-portraits with other people in the artwork, Freud also used interesting compositions to depict himself (such as in these next three works):


Interior with Hand-Mirror (Self-Portrait) (1967) (detail) (Oil on canvas)

Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-Portrait) (1967-8) (Oil on canvas)

Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) (1965) (Oil on canvas)

This work above also includes two of Freud's children (Ali and Rose Boyt).

Reflection (Self-Portrait) (1985) (detail) (Oil on canvas)

Again reflections are used in these two self-portraits (above and below).

Self Portrait, Reflection (2002) (Oil on canvas)

(Although it is hard to see in my photo above) Freud applied many thick layers of paint to make this work extremely textured, especially in the painting(?) in its background.

These next three works return to portraits of others:


The Painter's Mother Resting (1976) (Oil on canvas)

Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (1981-3) (Oil on canvas)

I prefer other large paintings by Freud, such Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (above) and Two Irishmen in W11 (below), to his later works depicting big naked people.

Two Irishmen in W11 (1984-85) (Oil on canvas)

I would highly recommend this exhibition, even for those who dont generally prefer portrait paintings. Along with the 'Picasso and Modern British Art' show currently at Tate Britain, these two are my must-see exhibitions of this year so far.


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