Another Look at Lucian Freud

March 19, 2020


Long-time readers may recall that I have a real fondness and admiration for the painter Lucian Freud and his works. There is no uncertainty in my mind that he was the greatest British painter of our age. A long article in New Criterion gives me the excuse to repeat my praise.

Andrew L. Shea’s Facing Lucian Freud is a review of The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922–1968 by William Feaver and a reflection on the Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Ithe modern era, few artists have gripped the public’s imagination with a legend of biography and cult of personality quite like Lucian Freud. Rarely is the painter invoked without at least a sideline reminder of his influential grandfather (Sigmund), usually followed by the observation that he is confirmed to have fathered fourteen children of his own (twelve illegitimate) and probably spawned many more than this (estimates from the rumor mill rise as high as forty). Then we learn of his extraordinary gambling addiction and his wildly polarized social life—running with the literary, noble, and social elites of his generation one night, consorting joyfully with the some of the grimiest characters from London’s seedy underbelly the next. When the conversation does turn toward the pictures, it normally stops first to linger on the astronomically high auction prices they began to receive in the twenty-first century, especially in the years preceding and following his death in 2011.

Feaver’s aim is to bring context to Freud’s paintings.

“On a basic level, Freud’s claim that “everything is biographical” aligns with the fact that he drew and painted the people he knew, the things he liked, in his studio and home. As such, Feaver’s account of Freud’s life as he went about meeting these people and bringing them into the sitter’s chair is useful from an art-historical perspective …

“Feaver conducted what he says are thousands of interviews with Freud, and these sometimes daily conversations have formed the backbone of his book. Indeed, nearly every page contains firsthand testimonial from the painter, and many pages are filled primarily with Freud’s voice. This gives the biography a lively, often very funny, and intimate character. It also allows us an in-depth look into how Freud, reticent and reluctant to discuss the work publicly while he was alive, viewed his own artistic project.”

Shea then turns to the show in Boston which features a collection of more than forty works of self-portraiture that span the bulk of Freud’s seven-decade career.


Shea is a fine critic and a perceptive viewer of Freud through the decades.  He concludes his well worthwhile article:

Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits may not answer all our questions about the relationship between this fascinating artist and his often unsettling work. But it’s a welcome opportunity to ponder the same in front of unusually powerful pictures. Together, the exhibition and William Feaver’s new biography offer as penetrating a look into the man behind the mirror as we’ve had to date.”

Lucian Freud 1922-2011

July 21, 2011

It is a sadness to report that the greatest British artist of our age has died today.  Lucian Freud was 88.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate art gallery, said it well:

“The vitality of his nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th century art. His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.”

It is a great thing that his art was as valued in the marketplace as it was in art circles, and he lived long enough to see some of his marvelous work fetch record prices.  I hope there is a lot more of his work to be seen.

Earlier material on Lucian Freud.

Lucian Freud

March 1, 2008

I recognize I am following the contemporary crowd by accepting Lucian Freud as our greatest living realist (at least). But some things seem so eminently true. I have never been enamoured of the BritArt YBAs such as Damein Hirst and Tracey Emin; they leave me cold. I am far happier with (I admit it) the older generation of Freud and Bacon and Hockney.

Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon are a fascinating pair to me. Bacon is like one too many hits off a Jamaican bong late at night, and Freud is the getting up next morning and eating a hearty breakfast. Bacon was often outrageous, and yet it is Freud who apparently has acknowledged more than 40 illegitimate children.

Anyway, this reverie was sparked by a fascinating review in the New York Review of Books of three recent publications on the artist. It’s a good read.

Lucian’s Nudes

May 19, 2019

I have on several occasions before written of my admiration for Lucian Freud.  So it was with great interest that I read Lucian’s Mountains of Flesh by Thomas Michelli at Hyperallergic, a review of the Freud exhibition Monumental.


Portrait on Grey Cover

Freud’s nudes, both male and female, are definitely not to everyone’s taste, and I strongly disagree with the political judgement laced within the review, but the article has its moments and is worth reading as one perspective on an important chapter of British art..

Lucian The Small

October 8, 2008

The next auction that I have an interest in is at Christies, London, on October 19th.  It is a sale of “Post-War and Contemporary Art“.

The first thing that struck me from the catalog were the Notes attached to Jeff Koon’s “Jim Beam Log Car” (estimate up to $1.6m).  They are the epitome of the Inflated Phrases we have discussed before.

But the real treat comes as early as Lot 9:  “Girl Reading“, Lucian Freud’s portait of Lady Caroline Blackwood.

We are used to Freud’s massive images, but this is a tiny 8″ x 6”.

It still took an age to paint.  Blackwood has described sitting for Freud:  “Not only it is slow, but after six months you can be back to where you started. He not only paints the anguish of your age but he also paints the anguish of his sitters” (C. Blackwood, quoted in S. Aronson, Sophisticated Lady, p. 146).

And the pre-sale estimates for this almost-miniature run from $3.5 million to $5.2 million.

A little larger, at 14″ x 14″, is Freud’s portrait of the other giant, Francis Bacon from 1956/7.  The pre-sale estimate for this historic image goes up to $12.3 million.

The catalog also includes a number of works from young Chinese artists, some basic Warhols, along with works by Gerhard Richter, Lucio Fontana, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and others.  It will be interesting to see if the “financial meltdown” has any effect on this end of the market.   I don’t expect it to.

Freud To Break Record Next Month

April 13, 2008

A 1995 work by Lucian Freud called “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” is expected to sell for $35m at auction in New York next month. That will make it the most expensive painting ever sold by a living artist.

The subject matter is typically Freudian: a large naked woman lounges on a couch. More interesting to me than the money is the model’s story and what she can tell us of the artist and his methods (wouldn’t we love to speak to the models for the Mona Lisa, David, and the Venus de Milo?).

Sue Tilly — “Big Sue” — was paid twenty pounds a day but “she did not do it for the money and had ‘lovely lunches’ with the artist … Ms Tilley – who is now a job centre manager – joked she had now become a broadsheet pin-up.”

“The painting took nine months, but that was about two or three days a week. “When I started I got £20 a day. I don’t mind though. The best thing was I got lovely lunches. I got taken to the River Cafe most weekends. It was worth it for that. It was the experience, it wasn’t the money at all. It was just fantastic. You know, so many people would love to have that experience, to work with such a great artist, and chat to them, find out about them and see what they were doing … Because you see the painting every day, you know moving along and what he’s doing and how he works on it. And also what I used to love was there were other paintings there as well, of other people. He has about four on the go at the same time, so each time you went you’d see how far he’s moved along on the other paintings as well.”

The painting is on show for the first time in London this month before it is shipped to New York for the auction.

Update: The painting sold for $33 million.

Anniversary Post

February 3, 2021

In the 1980s and 1990s I ran a number of BBSs (you have to be ancient to even remember what they were), and I opened my first actual blog in September 2001. This version (v.3) of Jak’s View from Vancouver is 13 years old today.

Over all that time, the top five posts (by view) have been:

Lucian Freud

The 2012 Summer Olympics Are Already With Us

Venice Becoming A Ghost Of Itself

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Les Sapeurs du Congo

However, since the beginning of 2019 when it was first published, this post about Love and the Oxford Comma has swamped all others with its popularity.

Here’s to another thirteen years!


April 18, 2020

The Washington Post this week includes a review by Paul Alexander of Blake Gopnik’s epic new biography of Andy Warhol, a work which calls Warhol — with complete justification in my opinion — “the most important and influential artist of the twentieth-century,” surpassing even Picasso.

For those unwilling to plough through the 1,000 pages of Gopnik’s book, this review outlines in broad strokes the reasons behind that bold claim.

Warhol was a highly successful commercial artist before turning his mind to what we might call fine art, first with the Soup Cans (which invented Pop Art), then with the silkscreens and Brillo sculptures and the first Factory.  By the mid-1960s he was creating experimental films (“Chelsea Girls“, for example, and “Poor Little Rich Girl“) and inventing new music with Velvet Underground.  Gopnik goes on to show that after he was shot and nearly killed in 1968, he returned to art (the Mao posters, and famous portraits) and allowed Fred Hughes to build a Warhol business empire which included television work and a new Factory.

Warhol produced a phenomenal amount of extraordinary and innovative material in his lifetime, stopping only for death in 1987.  Gopnik notes the “critical scepticism” that surrounded the living artist, a scepticism that has disappeared since Warhol’s death.  What has also grown over the years is a recognition of the positive and exciting influence that Andy Warhol had on so many other artists.

Andy Warhol is not my favourite modern artist — that remains Lucian Freud — but I share Gopnik and Alexander’s appreciation of his supreme importance.


More Art Sales

March 6, 2019

The rash of major sales continued in London two days ago with another Contemporary Art sale at Sotheby’s. The total realised at the sale was $123 million with 91% of lots selling.

The highest price was $10.8 million for Apex by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who’s work I simply don’t appreciate. This same piece had sold in 1988 for just $28,190.

More to my taste, Gerhard Richter (one of my favourites artists) had a piece Abstraktes Bild sell for $9.12 million, smack in the middle of its pre-sale estimate.


Perhaps more interestingly, a very Lucian Freud-ish painting by Jenny Saville called Juncture sold for $7.17 million, a massive increase from the same work’s $656,000 price tag in 2009.  It stands 12 feet tall.


Who’s Reading What?

November 9, 2009

lucien-freudI was looking at this site’s statistics this morning.  I  wasn’t surprised to see that coverage of Lucian Freud over the last year has drawn most views — by many thousands:  he is a popular and controversial painter.

What did surprise me, though, was how popular the Les Sapeurs du Congo post has been.   They are a truly fascinating social phenomenon.

Other posts that appear in the top half dozen include my image of “54 Stories of Old Ireland” (no idea where this is coming from), and the post on a pizza machine!

A Bad Night For Christies

November 6, 2008

The Fall auction circuit continued last night with a disastrous outing at Christies New York.

The auction house had put together similar materials from two well-known collections — the Lawrence Collection and the Hillman Collection — into a show called “The Modern Age”.  The rumours are that, in the summer when life was different, Christies had given the Lawrence Family a significant price guarantee.  However, only about $50 million was raised against pre-sale minimum estimates of more than $100 million, and 17 lots out of 58 failed to sell.  One wonders just how much this show must have cost Christies.

“The estimates were from an earlier time, and the market has changed now,” said Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christie’s in America and the evening’s auctioneer.

The highlight of the Lawrence pieces was supposed to be Mark Rothko’s “No. 43 (Mauve)” but no-one bit at the opening $10 million suggestion, not at any lower price indeed, even though the estimate was $20 million to $30 million — a very big hole in the sale’s expectations.  Other major failures were a Cezanne watercolour ($4m to $6m) and a $12m to $18m Manet.

chiricoThere were some successes:  Magritte’s “Empire of the Lights” sold at $3.1m, just above its high estimate, while Lucian Freud’s portrait of George Dyer (at $6m) and Fernand Leger’s “Study For A Nude Model” (at $2.9m) both sneaked (barely) over their lower estimates.  And, in a perfect illustration that estimates do not mean the same as reserves, one lucky buyer picked up a Toulouse-Lautrec for $4.4 million.  The estimates had been between $6 million and $8 million.  Someone got lucky!

The big sale of the show was Giorgio de Chirico’s “Metaphysical Composition“, a bizarre still life (see image on right), that sold for $6.1m, just above its minimum estimate.

There had been grumblings about the quality of the catalog (“Mutton dressed as lamb,” complained one critic) and even some specific comments about the condition of the Rothko, for example.  But still, this was clearly another example of the current market crisis affecting the art-buying wealthy.  I continue to read “experts” who suggest that the art market is not at all affected by the current recession, but I think they are wrong.

Auction Update

October 19, 2008

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Sale is going on as I blog.

Lucian Freud’s small painting of “Girl Reading” just about reached its estimates, selling for $3.8million.  And his iconic portrait of “Francis Bacon” barely crept over the lower estimates to fetch $9.4 million.  A third work, “Susie” didn’t sell.  Francis Bacon’s own “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes“, with pre-sales estimates between $9.5 million and $13 million, also appears not to have sold.

A number of Warhols are  being left on the shelf; presumably they didn’t meet their required minimums, and two Gerhard Richter’s also failed to sell.

The three new Chinese artists who were on display had mixed fortunes.  Yang Pei Ming failed to sell his “Autoportrait“, and a work by Yue Minjun sold for a few points less than the anticipated minimum.  However, Zeng Fanzhi almost doubled his estimate, selling an untitled work for $500,000.

To set my teeth on edge, it seems that Lucio Fontana is going to be the star of this show.   One of his la fine de Dio series just sold for an astonishing $15.6 million!   I really must be missing something.  The Inflated Phrases for this one include:

“Lucio Fontana’s Fine di Dio are a series of thirty-eight oval-shaped oil paintings made between March 1963 and February 1964 for three different exhibitions of his work held in Zurich, Milan and Paris. The supreme encapsulation of the ‘Spatialist’ art that he pioneered in the 1950s and ’60s, these works now stand as mystical icons that since their creation have proved themselves to be strangely prophetic of much about the way that modern physicists now view the cosmos.  Strange, mysterious and imposing, these punctured monochrome canvases in the shape of an egg are more than mere paintings. They are ‘Spatial concepts’ that invoke the fundamental mystery of the cosmos…”

On the other hand, I love Richard Prince’s “Dude Ranch Nurse #2” and I’m glad to see it reach $5.5 million.  I wonder if that is a record for him?

Almost at the end, a Damien Hirst medicine chest called “Untitled AAAAAAA” was left unsold after pre-sale estimates of around $400,000.

In all, the show had a value of around $50million.  But 19 of the 45 lots were left unsold, and I am sure that must be a disappointment.  Was it just the quality of the auction? Or is this a sign that money is tighter than it has been?  Hard to say yet.

Christies’ Sale

June 30, 2008

This evening’s sale at Christies in London brought a total of $175 million.   As I mentioned in an earlier post, the market for art seems only to strengthen as other financial instruments get weaker.

Unfortunately, whatever serious critics and I might say, Jeff Koons continues to prosper mightily.  His absurdly juvenile “Balloon Flower (Magenta)” was sold for $25.6 million, which is I believe a record for the artist. Christies calls it a “masterpiece”!

The fact that one of Damien Hirst’s pieces failed to meet its over-extended minimum supplies only partial consolation.

On the other hand Francis Bacon’s “3 Studies For A Self-Portrait” from 1975, sold for a very impressive $34.3 million.  Lucian Freud’s “Naked Portrait With Reflection” was perhaps a little disappointing at $23.4 million (the estimate was up to $30m).

Damn The Markets, Art Still Sells!

June 24, 2008

This week sees a rash of auctions in Europe; and early indications are for a continuing strong interest from the big money.

Earlier today, “Le Basin aux Nympheas“, a Monet water lilies that hasn’t been seen in public since 1971, was sold for $80,451,178 (including premium).  This is the highest price ever obtained for a painting at auction by Christies in Europe.

Other items of interest:  a Degas went for $26.5million; a reclining woman by Henry Moore fetched $8.4m; and even Russian cubist Vera Rockline’s “The Card Players” (see right) was sold for $4m.  A couple of Miros failed to meet their minimums, though.

There is a second day at Christies tomorrow and on Monday, the auction house holds the sequel to its successful Post-War show, with yet another huge Lucian Freud piece (“Naked Portrait With Reflection”) at its heart.

The estimate is $30 million.  We’ll see

Who’s Got The Big Money

May 18, 2008

Last week, I spent some time following the big Sothebys and Christies Post War Art auctions. As you may recall, the big items of interest were the Francis Bacon triptych that sold for $86million and Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” that fetched $33.6 million. Now, we know the buyer of both.

Listed as the 15th richest man in the world, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (who also owns Chelsea Football Club) purchased both lots, shelling out more than $140m (including buyers’ premiums). Abramovich isn’t known as a major art collector. It is assumed these pieces are for display in his not-yet-completed $300 million home in one of London’s prime squares.

His money has done a power of good for Chelsea football; perhaps he’ll now do the same for the art market.

Sale Ahoy!

May 13, 2008

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale is underway as I type. Seven or eight lots have sold so far, including a Warhol self-portrait at $3,513,000 (slightly above the upper estimate) and a work by Richard Prince that sold for $1,497,000, about 20% above the upper estimate.

What we are waiting for, of course the Lucian Freud sale and a couple of major works by Francis Bacon.

Things move fast! As I typed the last line, Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies For Self Portrait” went for $28,041,000, in line with estimates from $25m to $35m, and another Warhol, a monochrome edition of “Last Supper” pulled in $8,777,000, near the top end of pre-sale expectations.

Wow! Warhol’s “Double Marlon” screen print just went for $32,521,000 — above estimate! I think that we are looking good for a record with Lucian Freud. The high estimate mood has been set.

Gerhard Richter’s massive abstract “Abstraktes Bild” was sold for an incredible $14,601,000 — way above the pre-sale estimate 0f $7m to $10m. That makes over $100m of sales in the first 30-40 minutes of the sale. Christie’s must be pleased.

Peter Halley should also be feeling pretty good. His “Dream Game” (a rather off piece, I think) was estimated to fetch $90,000 to $120,000 but actually sold for $457,000. He has another piece in a later auction, the estimate for which will no doubt be raised after this evening. Adolphe Gottlieb’s “Cool Blast” (1960) has gone for double the high estimate at $6,537,000.

OK, now we are talking real money. Mark Rothko’s “Number 15” (see right) just made $50,441,000. The pre-sale estimate was private, but I suspect this was way above hopes.

De Koonig’s “Untitled IV” went for $12 million (within estimates) but Clyfford Still’s “1946 (PH-142)” broke through to $14,041,000, two million dollars above expectations.

Getting close to the Freud and another Bacon …

A Warhol soup can (“Pepperpot”) sold for $7,097,000, above estimate. I guess these old cans are like Old Masters in this market.

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Ball of Twine” was estimated at $14 million to $18 million. It is currently under the hammer, and seems not to have reached reserve.

Now, this is the one… Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” was snapped up at the high end of estimates for $33,641,000. This is almost exactly $10m higher than the previous price paid for a living artist (Jeff Koons, November 2007). Must make Freud’s in-the-wilderness days of the 1960s and 1970s seem so long ago.

Blogging a live auction was fun. I’ll see if I can do that again.

Update: Last night (Wednesday), Sothebys had a sale of contemporary art, with many of the same artists represented, and much the same high priced results.   The highlight was a massive triptych by Francis Bacon that sold for an incredible $86 million.  The grave disappointment (especially after #15 at Christies) was the withdrawal of Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” without a bid.