Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011)
Mediums: Oil, charcoal, pastel, conté, pen and ink, crayon, etching, watercolor
Subjects: Nude
Art Movement: Figuratif
Hometown: London, United Kingdom

Autoportrait 1985

The life of Lucian Freud,  who was considered as one of the most important contemporary figurative painters of the last century,  is as deep as his paintings……Born in Berlin, the grandson of Sigmund Freud moved to England at the age of ten. Freud studied at Central School of Art and then at the East Anglian School of Painting. He began his career as a painter during the Second World War in England and his first one-man exhibition was at the Lefevre Gallery in 1944 where one of his first painting  “the  painter’s room – 1944” was exposed. In 1951 Freud won the Arts Council prize at the Festival of Britain and in 1954 his work was shown in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It’s during the sixties that his style became what everyone knows today which is to say,  large paintings of naked flesh painted with multiple tones colors. Lucian Freud had as well the chance to meet great other painters such as Francis Bacon, Picasso or Giacometti.

As said, Freud has a “softer” period before starting painting nudes. Between 1940 and 1960, he painted in a more “classical” style. His painting is sober, soft, smooth, almost naïve !


“Landscape with Birds”



“The  painter’s   room”



“Woman with Tulip”



“Dead Heron”



“Portrait of a Man (John Craxton)”



“Girl in a Blanket”


Freud said that he was in a period of “maximum observation” by “staring at my subject matter and examining it closely”. From 1954, Freud would have said that he wanted to be totally “free myself from this way of working”.

Who could have detected in these paintings the future painter of nude and injury bodies??  But when you look at it, you can see :

  • Table
  • Green plant
  • Animals
  • Sofa
  • Room
  • Portrait

They already have the elements that we will found in his forthcoming paintings….Indeed, Freud used to paint women under plants or trees, women or men with animals (mostly dogs) and on a sofa, a bed or a chair and he quite often painted in his studio, with a very minimalist décor.

     Freud is definitively a portraitist of the human being and animal. With the painting

“Girl with a white dog”


we can observe both, a portrait and a dog but both of them are painted with the same depth, reality and detailed.

The features are fine, precise, deep,  the sweet dog is calm and comfortable in total harmony with his mistress.

When he started to paint nude, his style moved to another style and became more “raw and rough”. The bodies are offered without any compromises and can be, sometimes, very exhibitionist and at this period, his painting started to be noticed as Freud went against the standard forms – nice, pure and beautiful – to let appear a “truth” which can sometimes be very disturbing. Freud used a limited palette of colors more in gray and brown, almost cadaveric colors, and if you carefully look at the painting, we can say that he used the technique of the wheelbase to highlight the defects.

In many of his portraits, which are for most of them friends, wife and even his children, there is a protrusion of flesh, a too much skin which is not always appetizing.  Indeed, his painting is deeply violent in its realism, thicker, cold and sometimes can give a very strange impression of overexposed distorted body. The bodies are not always in their best profile. Their intimacy is delivered on a silver plate, the fleshes are made through a scalpel and have no real aesthetic. As in many of his works, Freud is integer, too intense for some, not disturbing for others. Indeed, the crudeness of his portraits, the vulgarity of poses, the intervention of animals or the use of artificial light to incite deformities carefully chosen by Freud can fascinate or on the contrary can provoke a certain discomfort.

One think is very surprising is the number of paintings which are representing male nudes. Indeed, women were the rule and again Freud went against the dictatorship that only a woman could be painted naked!

Lucian Freud repeats his motto ever since : “I want the painting to be flesh” ! and it’s what he did!


“Naked Man with a rat”


A man and an animal !


”Blonde Girl on a Bed”


The   position of this body is “offensive” and hurts. It has little sweetness!


“Leigh under the skylight”


The man on its pedestal shows all the   defects of a human being and represents all but an “Apollo”. The   representation of Leigh is simply “human” with all its   imperfections, cruelties and deformities that sometimes the human bodies can   let appear !



“Sleeping by the Lion Carpet”


Here we have an abundance of flesh ….


“David and Eli”


Once again a man and a dog. Dogs are often   represented lying quietly to / on their master, as they vowed their total devotion


“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping II”


Here again an impressive mass of flesh almost put on show



“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping”


The muse obese Sue Tilley – known   as Big Sue (sold for more than $33 mio)

This is the period where Freud  painted “what I see, not what you want me to see !”

What is quite surprising in the representation of naked bodies. Indeed they are without any frills and they do not look like perfect body such as we can see in magazines for decades now ! It could be everyone !

The artist used to say: “to represent yourself, you should try to paint as if it were someone else. In the self-portrait, likeness is something else. I have to paint what I feel without falling into expressionism. ”

Lucian Freud was as well famous for having painted in 2001, amongst other famous people such as Kate Moss when she was pregnant, the Baron Thyssen, David Hockney, the transformist Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley, the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of his jubilee. This painting was, of course, deeply controversial in Britain.

Indeed, It seems that it was decided after much discussion that it would happen in one of the palaces of the queen. It lasted from May 2000 to December 2001. Freud asked the queen to pose with his crown and he chose to paint a small size on which the head front view size occupied the entire surface of the table. As usual Freud used his usual colors (cadaveric) and made no gift to the Queen…Indeed, it has no finesse, the features are rather heavy, we can see dark circles and can guess a double chin ….Of course the painting caused a scandal in Great Britain.

Lucien Freud died in July 2011


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