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 Lucian Michael Freud  (1922 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: England/Germany      Known for: nude figurative painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist:

"Lucian Freud, Figurative Painter Who Redefined Portraiture, Is Dead at 88"
Published: July 21, 2011

Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88.

He died following a brief illness, said William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, Mr. Freud's dealer.

Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art.

In paintings like Girl With Roses (1947-48) and Girl With a White Dog (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter's social facade. Ordinary people ? many of them his friends ? stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist's ruthless inspection.

From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud's nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.

The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.

The relationship between sitter and painter, in his work, overturned traditional portraiture. It was "nearer to the classic relationship of the 20th century: that between interrogator and interrogated," the art critic John Russell wrote in "Private View," his survey of the London art scene in the 1960s.

William Feaver, a British critic who organized a Freud retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002, said: "Freud has generated a life's worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting."

Lucian Michael Freud was born in Berlin on Dec. 8, 1922, and grew up in a wealthy neighborhood near the Tiergarten. His father, Ernst L. Freud, an architect who was Sigmund Freud's youngest son, married Lucie Brasch, the heiress to a timber fortune, and the family enjoyed summers on the North Sea and visits to a family estate near Cottbus, in Germany.

In 1933, after Hitler came to power, the Freuds moved to London, where Lucian attended progressive schools but showed little academic promise. He was more interested in horses than in his studies, and entertained thoughts of becoming a jockey.

In 1938, he was expelled from Bryanston, in Dorset, after dropping his trousers on a dare on a street in Bournemouth. But his sandstone sculpture of a horse earned him entry into the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.  He left there after a year to enroll in the East Anglian School of Drawing and Painting in Dedham, where he studied with the painter Cedric Morris. While it is true that the school burned to the ground while he was there, the often repeated story that Mr. Freud accidentally started the fire with a discarded cigarette seems unlikely.

In 1941, hoping to make his way to New York, Mr. Freud enlisted in the Merchant Navy, where he served on a convoy ship crossing the Atlantic. He got no nearer to New York than Halifax, Nova Scotia, and after returning to Liverpool developed tonsillitis and was given a medical discharge from the service.

Mr. Freud was a bohemian of the old school. He set up his studios in squalid neighborhoods, developed a Byronic reputation as a rake and gambled recklessly ("Debt stimulates me," he once said). In 1948, he married Kitty Garman, the daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whom he depicted in several portraits, notably Girl With Roses, Girl With a Kitten (1947) and Girl With a White Dog (1950-51).  That marriage ended in divorce, as did his second marriage, to Lady Caroline Blackwood. He is survived by many children from his first marriage and from a series of romantic relationships.

His early work, often with an implied narrative, was strongly influenced by the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) painters like Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, although his influences reached back to Albrecht Dürer and the Flemish masters like Hans Memling.

On occasion he ventured into Surrealist territory. In The Painter's Room (1943), a zebra with red and yellow stripes pokes its head through the window of a studio furnished with a palm tree and sofa. A top hat sits on the floor.

Mr. Freud later rejected Surrealism with something like contempt. "I could never put anything into a picture that wasn't actually there in front of me," he told the art critic Robert Hughes. "That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness."

A decisive influence was Francis Bacon, a fellow artist at the 1954 Venice Biennale and the subject of one of his most famous works, a head painted in oil on copper in 1952. Bacon's free, daring brushwork led Mr. Freud to abandon the linear, thinly painted portraits of the 1940s and move toward the brushy, searching portrait style of his mature work, with its severely muted palette of browns and yellows.

"Full, saturated colors have an emotional significance that I want to avoid," he once said. To the artist and Freud biographer Lawrence Gowing, he said, "For me the paint is the person." Mr. Freud's dingy studio became his artistic universe, a grim theater in which his contorted subjects, stripped bare and therefore unidentifiable by class, submitted to the artist's unblinking, merciless inspection.

The sense of the artist-model relationship is suggested by Reflection With Two Children, a 1965 self-portrait showing Mr. Freud seen from below, the vantage point of a dog looking at its master. Two children, almost miniature in scale, are shunted to the side of the canvas. A glaring light overhead contributes to the impression of the artist as all-powerful inquisitor.

His female subjects in particular seemed not just nude but obtrusively naked. Mr. Freud pushed this effect so far, Russell once noted, "that we sometimes wonder if we have any right to be there." By contrast, his horses and dogs, like his whippets Pluto and Eli, were evoked with tender solicitude.

"I've got a strong autobiographical bias," he told Mr. Feaver, the British critic. "My work is entirely about myself and my surroundings."

On rare occasions Mr. Freud took on something akin to official portraits. He painted the collector Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, fully clothed, in Man in a Chair (1985). His stern 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth, showing the royal head topped by the Diamond Diadem, divided the critics and public.

Some critics hailed the picture as bold, uncompromising and truthful. Arthur Morrison, the arts editor of The Times of London, wrote, "The chin has what can only be described as a six-o'clock shadow, and the neck would not disgrace a rugby prop forward." The newspaper's royal photographer said Mr. Freud should be thrown into the Tower of London.

These were deviations. Much more in the Freud vein was his portrait of a man sprawled on a couch holding a sleeping rat (Naked Man With Rat, 1977-78). The animal's tail, draped across the model's left thigh, nearly makes contact with his genitals, producing an ineffably creepy effect.

Mr. Freud remained deeply unfashionable in the United States for many decades, but in 1987 the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington exhibited his work in a show that no New York museum would take on. This was a watershed event. Mr. Hughes proclaimed him "the greatest living realist painter," and a Freud cult soon developed. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.

"It is an attempt at a record," Mr. Freud said, describing his work on the occasion of his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1974. "I work from the people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know."

Internet Source:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

He was born in December, 1922, one of three brothers who were brought up in Berlin.  He is the grandson of Sigmund Freud.  As a youth, Lucian belonged to a gang, roamed the streets, and stole chocolate when dared.  Friends of his joined the Hitler Youth because they reported, you got good sausage there.  His father was an architect who was prevented from working in Germany in 1933 and who moved his family to England before things in Germany got worse.

Lucian attended Dartington Hall, a progressive school where he learned very little; he left Dartington and went to Bryanston, where he found refuge in the art room.  He subsequently studied at the Central School of Arts and Goldsmith College.  But his most important training came from the East Anglian School of Drawing and Painting, at Dedham in Suffolk, run by Cedric Morris.  Smoking in bed one night, Freud set the school on fire; it burned down but the cause of the fire was left a mystery.

Since this occurred during the war years, the school remained unbuilt.  In 1942 Freud joined the Merchant Navy, traveled to Newfoundland and back, and decided he no longer needed a teacher.  He felt that by simply using his eyes and will power he could overcome his lack of natural ability.  During the early 1950s he was an instructor at the Slade School in London.

Freud was married twice.  His first wife was Kitty Epstein, daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein.  His second wife was Caroline Blackwood, who went on to marry the American poet, Robert Lowell.  He had several daughters and sons; he often used them for models.  His mother, Lucie (for whom he was named) became his model in the 1970s.  Freud always claimed that his work was purely autobiographical.  He never claimed to be a visionary and he never invented the subject matter of his paintings.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California

Sources include:
Encyclopedia of Painting
"Inside Freud's Mind by William Feaver in ARTnews, September 1993
Nancy Grimes in ARTnews
Visual Arts by Richard Ingleby from Electric Library from the internet

Biography from Christie's Paris:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

There is division in the work of the artist.  Up until the early 1950s, he was essentially a draughtsman who occasionally produced paintings.  From the mid 1950s onwards, he was fundamentally - and increasingly - a master of oil painting, deploying virtuoso control of brush-work and impasto. 

Part of the fascination of a black-crayon Self-Portrait inscribed on December 14, 1954 is that it comes almost exactly at that crucial watershed.  The vast majority of Freud's early works are on paper. In the book Freud on Paper (R. Calvocoressi, S. Smee, New York, 2008) over a hundred drawings and other graphic works are reproduced from the decade and a half predating December 1954; only one drawing is noted in that publication from the following 14 years.  His Self-Portrait is unusual in handling, but then there is little to compare it with: the next drawing in Freud on Paper dates from 1959. It is moreover of a subject - himself - to which Freud returned frequently throughout his career.  It provided - as well as scope for visual auto-biography - an opportunity for experimentation.  Many of his self-portraits are innovatory in angle of vision, composition or treatment suggesting that when depicting himself he felt a greater freedom than he did when painting another person.  The other atypical aspect of the drawing is the inscription. A few early works by Freud were signed - a portrait of his patron Peter Watson from 1945, for example - but in later years the artist made a point of not signing (the exception being his etchings, which bore a light "L.F.").  On the self-portrait there is not exactly a signature, but a dedication in Freud's highly distinctive, un-joined-up hand. It is to Patrick O'Higgins, a man whose path perhaps crossed the artist's a few years before. O'Higgins, a cosmopolitan of Irish decent, born in Paris, educated in England and resident in New York, might have encountered the artist in several ways.

In 1950 he had a job on Flair, a short-lived but much acclaimed magazine, the very first issue of which contained a profile of Freud - the first to appear in the USA. Later O'Higgins joined the staff of Helena Rubenstein, and regularly traveled to France.  The gift of the self-portrait drawing to O'Higgins was made precisely as the artist was altering the way he worked.  He explained to Sebastian Smee something of the reason for this. "People said and wrote that I was a very good draughtsman, but my paintings were linear and defined by my drawing" (Op. cit). This irritating - and in many ways correct - assessment of Freud's early output was accompanied by an internal sense of discomfort at the extraordinary level of sharp-focus precision his pictures of the late '40s and very early '50s entailed.  This felt like physical constraint: the artist seated, in the closest proximity both to his subject and to the work in progress.  At a certain point, he suddenly stood up. "My eyes were completely going mad", he told William Feaver, "Sitting down and not being able to move. Small brushes, fine canvas.  Sitting down used to drive me more and more agitated."  The last painting he executed in this way was Hotel Bedroom 1954 (The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton).  This was completed in time to be shown in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in the Summer of that year.  Closely associated with Hotel Bedroom was Girl's Head (1954) a conté pencil drawing that could be a study for the picture (except that Freud did not work in quite that way).  It depicts the artist's new, second wife Lady Caroline Blackwood, from almost the same angle at which she appears in the painting.  In the latter she is shown lying in bed, in the drawing she is clearly reading (as she told me she invariably did when posing for Freud).  In several ways, however - the treatment of the sitter's loosely undulating hair for example - the portraits of Caroline Blackwood in Hotel Bedroom and Girl's Head are closely aligned.  It is reasonable to assume that both were executed in the same Parisian hotel room, where Freud and his new wife were resident; Freud told me in 2004, he and Caroline had quite a social life in Paris round that time.  From details of the background it seems possible that the Self-Portrait dedicated to Patrick O'Higgins was also executed in the same room, at the Hotel La Louisiane in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (from which Freud wrote several times to Lilian Somerville of the British Council about the progress of the painting). The shirt looks as if it might be the same one worn by the figure artist standing, contre-jour in front of the window in Hotel Bedroom.  Sebastian Smee has analysed Girl's Head as a transitional work, showing "a new, painterly approach".  In it, Blackwood's "jawline and chin", he noted, "Are rendered by the faintest of lines, weakened further by pentimenti and soft shading.  The "really interesting action", he went on, takes place with inner modelling of the face, "conveyed by softly graduated lines rather than stylised hatching".  In the Self-Portrait dedicated to Patrick O'Higgins this process has been carried much further.  The face is now modelled almost entirely through areas of gently modulated shadow.  Much of the angle of the jaw, for example, is rendered not by a line at all but by an absence of shading - a subtle touch of reflected light. The same is true of other features such as the nose and the eye-lines.  These are conveyed largely not by lines but by areas of tone.  In other words, this is one of the first of Freud's works on paper that might be termed a true painter's drawing.  Martin Gayford, February 2014.

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