Friday, July 22, 2011

Lucian Freud, the painter's painter, is dead at 88

Lucian Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud, died last Wednesday at his London home following a brief illness. Viewed by many (including myself) as the world's greatest living painter, he worked until the very end, almost completing a portrait of his assistant David Dawson a few days prior to his death.




His focus was painting what was before him, and in painting from life, Freud was apt to spend a great deal of time with one subject, and demanded the model's presence even while working on subsidiary elements. A nude completed in 2007 required sixteen months of work, with the model posing all but four evenings during that time; with each session averaging five hours, the painting took approximately 2,400 hours to complete. A rapport with his models was necessary, and while at work, Freud was characterised as "an outstanding raconteur and mimic".Regarding the difficulty in deciding when a painting is completed, Freud said that "he feels he's finished when he gets the impression he's working on somebody else's painting".


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 deepens. A section of canvas was intentionally left bare until the painting is 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.


"I paint people," Freud said, "not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be." Freud painted fellow artists, including Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon. He produced a series of portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery, and also painted Henrietta Moraes, a muse to many Soho artists. Towards the end of his life he did a nude portrait of model Kate Moss. Freud was one of the best known British artists working in a representational style, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989.




In May 2008, his 1995 portrait Benefits Supervisor Sleeping was sold at auction by Christie's in New York City for $33.6 million, setting a world record for sale value of a painting by a living artist.