German-born British painter Lucian Freud is widely regarded as one of the world's finest figurative painters. Best known for his nudes and portraits, he once stated with regard to his choice of subject: “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”.
Lucian Freud was born on December 8, 1922, in Berlin, the grandson of famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. His father Ernst was an architect and his mother was the daughter of a grain merchant. After Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, the Freud family moved to England where they received British citizenship in 1939.
Lucian studied at the Central School of Art in London, the East Anglican School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham, and Goldsmith's College in London. At seventeen, several of his drawings were published in the progressive magazine Horizon. By the early 1940's, he had begun painting full time. His first solo exhibition in 1944 at the Lefevre Gallery featured ‘The Painter's Room’ (1944).
Lucian Freud married Kathleen Epstein, also known as Kitty Garman, in 1948. She bore him two daughters, Annie and Annabel. Kitty was portrayed in ‘Girl with a White Dog’ (1951). Their four year marriage ended abruptly after the artist’s affair with Lady Caroline Blackwood (society girl and writer) was exposed. Although he married Caroline in 1957, it has been estimated that he has fathered at least forty illegitimate children over his lifetime.
In 1951, Lucian’s work entitled ‘Interior at Paddington’ won a prize at the Festival of Britain. This portrait of Harry Diamond, a friend of the artist, is meant to give the viewer a sense of unease resulting from the overpowering effect of the plant in the picture.
So meticulous is Lucian Freud at bringing out the essense of his subjects that he has sometimes been called a Realist. Often, at a quick glance, a viewer may find his portraits unflattering; however, a closer look reveals the honesty of his intention which is to capture his subject’s intrinsic nature. This artist has never made sensuality or beauty the focus of his work; instead, he encourages the viewer to penetrate through the layers of paint in order to find the beauty within. He has always disliked engaging professional models, preferring to use friends and family members instead. He has commented that models are often too ‘hardened’, and added “They've grown another skin because they've been looked at so much”.
In 1996, Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal mounted a major exhibition of 27 paintings and 13 etchings that covers the entire period of Lucian Freud's working life to date.
From May 2000 to December 2001, the artist painted Queen Elizabeth II. The portrait received harsh criticism and controversy from the press, including the popular newspaper The Sun, which wrote that the artist’s portrayal of the Queen was quite unflattering. On the flip side, Richard Cork (chief art critic of The Times) describes the image as “painful, brave, honest, stoical and clear sighted”. His nude portrait of pregnant supermodel Kate Moss entitled ‘Naked Portrait 2002’ evoked the same type of controversial response.
One of the artist’s more recent pieces, ‘The Brigadier’ (2003-2004), depicts an English military man in full regalia. A recent self-portrait, ‘The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer’ (2005), displays the artist painting with a woman at his feet, clutching onto his leg. It was shown at the National Portrait Gallery’s Self Portrait Renaissance to Contemporary from October 2005 to January 2006.
Lucian Freud continues to live in his Holland Park studio in London, England, producing art that will be added to a great body of work. What inspires him? In the artist’s own words: “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real”.