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.
“In the 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.”