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Lucian Freud painted people “how they happen to be”

Legacy.com / Nick Ehrhardt

Lucian Freud painted people “how they happen to be”

One of the best-known and most highly regarded British artists of recent times, painter Lucian Freud was most famous for his portraits: realistic, intense, sometimes nude, often a little disturbing in their frank depiction of humans, warts and all.

 

 Lucian Freud's Woman Smiling is regarded as the work that pioneered the style of painting for which he is most recognised.

 Lucian Freud’s Woman Smiling is regarded as the work that pioneered
the style of painting for which he is most recognised. (AP Photo)

Freud was the grandson of legendary psychotherapist Sigmund Freud and the brother of broadcaster, writer and politician Clement Freud. Born in Berlin in 1922, he and his family fled early from the threat of the Nazis, moving to London in 1933.

By the early 1940s, his art was beginning to gain notice, though his early works were of a different style than the paintings that made him famous. In the 1940s, he painted surrealist works oddly juxtaposing humans, animals and plants. But by the early 1950s, he had turned to realist portraits.

Boy Smoking by Lucian Freud

Boy Smoking, Lucian Freud, 1951-2 (AP Photo)

Freud began to use the technique of impasto, in which thick layers of paint are used and individual brush strokes are often visible. This creates rich texture, sometimes even becoming sculptural.

Lucian Freud self portrait

Self-Portrait: Reflection, Lucian Freud, 2002 (AP Photo)

Several self-portraits were among Freud’s work. He was no less blunt with portraits of himself than he was when painting others.

Lucian Freud Self Portrait with Black Eye

Self-Portrait with a Black Eye, Lucian Freud, 1978 (AP Photo)

Freud offered this explanation of his chosen subject matter and treatments of the human form: “I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.” His subjects sometimes felt he was revealing flaws they chose to hide in their daily life. And his paintings were often controversial. British newspaper The Sun called his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II “a travesty.” Art critic Robin Simon said, “It makes her look like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke.” Other critics disagreed, excited with the way Freud challenged the traditional royal portrait style.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Lucian Freud

Queen Elizabeth II by Lucian Freud (The Royal Collection)

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the power of Freud’s work. Art connoisseurs flock to Freud’s exhibitions… and they pay dearly for the chance to own one of his paintings. Some have sold for tens of millions of dollars, and many are on display in some of the world’s greatest public collections. His death on July 20, 2011 doesn’t change the importance of his work… but perhaps the news will bring even more current and future fans to museums and galleries for a look at some of the century’s most notable art.

 

Portrait of Bruce Bernard by Lucian Freud (AP Photo)

Portrait of Bruce Bernard by Lucian Freud (AP Photo)