Analyzing the art of Lucian Freud

(CBS News) The OTHER Freud, if you will, revealed the essence of his subjects with brush and palette just as surely as his grandfather Sigmund did by letting his patients talk. Anna Werner guides us through a retrospective:

Flesh so real you can't help but feel like a voyeur, as you take in images of men, women, soldiers, thugs, and even the Queen of England.

They are the portraits of Lucian Freud, whom some critics call one of the greatest portrait painters of the 20th century.

In 2008, this striking portrait of Sue Tilley, a British civil servant, sold for the highest price ever paid at the time for a painting by a living artist.

Freud was a painter who bucked trends in the art world to focus on one thing: people.

"He would say to me, 'You know, Michael, if you're interested in the human condition, you have to study the human condition very, very carefully," said curator Michael Auping. He met Lucian Freud a few years before the artist's death in 2011 while preparing an exhibition of his portraits, now on display at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas.

"Ninety-six percent of his work were portraits," said Auping. "In a sense this is a retrospective of his life's work. And more than that, it's a visual biography of his life."

Lucian Freud was born in Berlin in 1922. In 1933, his Jewish family fled Nazi Germany and moved to London. After a stint in the army, he went to art school. There, the grandson of Sigmund Freud began his own lifelong study of people - using not psychoanalysis, but paint.

Among his subjects: His first wife, Kitty Garman.

"The process involved having his subject sit in a chair, and he would sit in a chair literally so close that they were touching knees," said Auping. "You can see in some of the details in her hair. I mean, it looks like it's done with a very fine pencil, but that's actually done with a brush and liquid paint."

He came into his style after his friend and fellow painter Francis Bacon encouraged him to paint more freely. Freud began using a thicker brush, and started to focus more on the flesh.

Auping described a painting of one of Freud's lovers, a woman named Susan Boyt: "You can see how he has really looked very carefully at her complexion. You can almost see blue veins underneath some of the redness of her cheeks."

David Dawson spent twenty years as Freud's assistant and model. He described Freud as "Driven, single-minded. There'd always be a sitter every morning, seven days a week, every day of the year. He'd rest in the afternoons. And then there'd be another - a nighttime picture - in the evenings."

His subjects sat for hours each day, every day. His portraits took months, even years to complete, with results often less than complimentary.

When the Duchess of Devonshire sat for this portrait, she was 30.

"Of course she looks considerably older than 30 in this picture, said Auping. "And the famous story is that, when the duchess turned 70, she had a grand party and got up and gave a toast and said, 'Lucian, I'm happy to say I've finally grown into my portrait.'"

Dawson talked about Freud's portrait of the Queen, saying the two got on "Very, very well. They both share a love of horse racing. They are of the same age. And Lucian rather enjoyed her company. It's a rather remarkable little portrait."

Not everyone agreed.

Freud didn't care. His goal wasn't to please his subjects . . . and for that reason, he rarely accepted commissions.

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter