“The main point about painting is paint: that it is all about paint.” – Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud, born in Berlin in 1922, would become one of Britain’s greatest painters. Nicknamed the ‘anti-photoshop’ painter, he was the grandson of infamous Sigmund Freud and moved over to England from Berlin in 1933 to escape the rise of the Nazi’s. He had a calm time at Dartington Hall School in Devon, but proved to be quite naughty in secondary education, getting expelled from Bryanston School for reportedly dropping his trousers in the street for a dare. For a while he considered becoming horse jockey, but fortunately, he was accepted to the Central School of Arts and Crafts, proceeded by the East Anglian School of Drawing. After a brief stint in the Merchant Navy (that ended in a medical discharge due to bronchitis) he settled down to become an artist.
Freud is most famous for his (mostly) nude portraits but also painted many cityscapes from his long-term studio in Paddington.
His Hyper-Realistic Style Evolved From The More Surreal
His painting style in the beginning was more surreal and flat, painted with a thin layer of paint; where subjects and objects are unusually juxtaposed, and proportions seem un-real – this is especially depicted in his large eyed series of first wife Kitty Garman (see: Girl With Kitten, 1947). Other examples of early works of this style include Greek Man, Portrait of a Man and Interior in Paddington.
In Girl with a White Dog (1951-52) and even in Boy Smoking (1950-51) we can see his style is beginning to change, the use of light and shadow is beginning to come in; moving him slowly from the flat surrealist style he was currently channeling.
Though Francis Bacon was a huge influence on Freud and his style – which we’ll get to shortly – it should be noted that in adapting to a more Bacon-esque, textured style of painting, he was also returning to the style that is present in one of his first ever works; of writer and poet Stephen Spender*, which he painted at the age of 17. This portrait shows thicker brush strokes, the muted palette he would work from in all his later works, the use of light and shadow and the slightly grotesque realism we have come to know and love from Freud. Apparently he “hated” the renaissance, a movement that crowned man as the greatest creation, where Freud felt rather differently – that we are all decaying matter, and that is that.
*Letters between Freud and Spender, published in 2015, have had experts claiming a homosexual relationship between the two, which came as a surprise to many as Freud was quite a notorious heterosexual man.
Freud and Francis Bacon Were Once Great Friends and Collaborators
These two great British artists were introduced by a mutual friend and fellow artist, Graham Sutherland, when he invited both, Bacon then aged 36 and Freud, 23, to his country home.
The two would go on to become firm friends, as Freud put it “once I met him I saw him a lot”, and began painting each other.
Freud sat for bacon first in 1951* and was fascinated by his approach to painting, praising him for “packing a lot of things into one single brushstroke.”.
He cited Bacon’s influence as one of the reasons behind his decision to exercise a more spontaneous approach to his paintings, which among other things, involved standing at an easel and using thick hog’s hair brushes.
Freud and Bacon would go on to share the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1954 with Ben Nicholson. Freud and Bacon fell out in the mid 1970s after an argument, reportedly as the Irish born Bacon, who had often been broke in his youth, came to resent Freud’s “snobbery” and his love of old-fashioned, high society.
It didn’t change Freud’s respect for Bacon as a painter, saying “Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it’s what Yeats called the fascination with what’s difficult. I’m only trying to do what I can’t do.”
*Bacon’s 1951 triptych of Freud ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ fetched $142 million in 2013.
Freud’s Relationship With and Opinions Of Other Famous Artists
However he was not fan of all artists and certainly didn’t revere other talent: he remembers Picasso as “absolutely poisonous”, Man Ray is described as “noisy and vulgar”, and the German expressionist Max Ernst as a “heavy and stiff” dinner companion.
N.B. One of Freud’s most famous sitters, apart from Kate Moss, was The Queen who he painted in between 2000 and 2001, that The Sun blasted “a travesty” – which to many seemed a little excessive.
The Hidden Influence Of His Grandfather
There is no escaping the fact Lucian Freud’s grandfather was and is still, the father of psychoanalysis, and the pioneer of the ‘psychiatrists couch’ where his patients would recline while undergoing psychoanalysis. The reclining theme of the sitter in Lucian’s paintings is clear, and is either a conscious or a subconscious mirroring of his grandfather (who would be better equipped than I to tell you which) but it was also Lucian’s method of painting that mirrored his grandfather somewhat. His paintings would famously take months or years to complete (part of the reason Freud’s second painting of Bacon – his first bought by the Tate but lost while on an exhibition in Berlin – remains incomplete; because Bacon abandoned the sittings). One of his sitters reportedly sat every night, bar four nights, for 5 hours a night for 16 months. Dedication was required from both parties, as Freud believed in painting the same person numerous times in similar compositions to help him understand his subjects more fully, both mentally and physically. The intense nature in which Freud worked meant he needed to enjoy the company of the sitter, and reportedly only painted one person he didn’t like, a book dealer called Bernard Breslaure (the feeling was mutual, Breslaure destroyed the painting).
So, his subjects were often family, friends or friends of friends. Occasionally they would be neither, such as Boy Smoking who is a boy named Charles Lumley, who Freud discovered trying to break into his studio with his brother, whom he would also go on to paint.
Ultimately though, almost all of his paintings were autobiographical, as all the people he chose to paint also told a story about himself and his values.
Freud’s Most Expensive Art Work
Freud’s works frequently fetch well in to the millions, but it was his paintings of the obese benefits supervisor ‘big sue’, aka Sue Tilly, that would fetch the most. Benefits Supervisor Sleeping broke the record for most expensive work sold by a living artist at the time, in 2008. Benefit Supervisor Sleeping then went on to fetch £35.8 million in 2015, 4 years after his death. He had said of Sue’s body, that would become such an iconic image: “It’s flesh without muscle and it has developed a different kind of texture through bearing such a weight-bearing thing.”