Freud, Lucian

born Dec. 8, 1922, Berlin, Ger.

German-born British painter.

Grandson of Sigmund Freud, he moved with his family to London when he was 10. He is known for sombre, realistic figure paintings that represent his subjects' raw physical characteristics and inner tensions; his highly individualistic, coarse style makes no attempt to idealize its usually nude subjects. His work has been internationally influential in reviving a representational style. In 1993 he was awarded the Order of Merit.

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▪ 1995

      In late 1993, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened a major exhibition of paintings by artist Lucian Freud. Best known as a figure painter, Freud aroused controversy because he often portrayed his subjects naked. In many of the large, later paintings, he represented the raw physical characteristics as well as the inner tensions of his subjects. Adding to the sombre realism of his figures was the dingy setting of the Paddington (London) studio where he had worked for many years. In addition, a show of Freud's early works at the Robert Miller Gallery, also in New York City, ended in January 1994. Although his earlier drawings and paintings were generally smaller, they displayed a similar intensity to those shown at the Met.

      Freud was born in Berlin on Dec. 8, 1922. His father, Ernst, an architect, was the youngest son of Sigmund Freud, the famed father of psychoanalysis. The family moved to London about 10 years later. At school he developed a passion for horses and did some early drawings and sculptures of this subject. Later, as an art student, he was as much known for his unconventional behaviour as for his drawing talent. As a teenager he unexpectedly joined the Merchant Navy and, while attending the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, he accidentally set fire to the school with a cigarette. He was something of a boy wonder, and when he was 17 his first published sketch (a self-portrait) appeared in an avant-garde literary magazine.

      Freud took a long painting trip to Paris and Greece after World War II. Back in London, he began laying the groundwork for his distinctive style in a series of paintings of his first wife, Kitty. Thereafter the subjects of his figure paintings—often nude—were his friends (many of whom were artists) and relatives, including his children. These works were not conventional portraits, and because they are more about paint than about a specific person, their titles seldom reveal the sitter's identity. The paintings show no attempt by the artist to idealize or prettify the subject. Rather, his style was described as creating flesh with paints. His unusual, coarse, personal style of painting made people curious about the artist, but Freud always guarded his privacy and rarely gave interviews.

      Although he had been an important artist in England for many years, Freud's work first became widely known in the U.S. through a 1987 retrospective exhibition at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. In the catalog for this exhibit, art critic Robert Hughes called the artist "the greatest living realist painter." In fact, Freud belonged to no "school" of art, and his highly individualistic style did not fit nicely into any particular category. (MARGARET BARLOW)

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▪ British artist
born Dec. 8, 1922, Berlin, Ger.

      British artist known for his work in portraiture and the nude. Sometimes called a realist, he painted in a highly individual style, which in his later years was characterized by impasto.

      The son of the architect Ernst Freud and a grandson of Sigmund Freud, he immigrated with his family to England in 1933, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1939. He was trained at the Central School of Art in London, where he was as much known for his unconventional behaviour as for his drawing talent, and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Freud turned to painting full-time after WWII. His Interior at Paddington (1951) exhibits many of his lifelong concerns—the human figure rendered in a realist manner and imbued with a stark and evocative psychological intensity. Freud's many portraits of his friends and associates and of members of the British gentry extended a grand English tradition. His series of paintings and drawings of his mother, begun in 1970 and continuing until the day after her death in 1989, are particularly frank and dramatic studies of intimate life passages.

      Freud's many studies of the nude make up a major part of his work. For 50 years he posed friends, neighbours, models, and family members in his studio, often as if strewn casually across dilapidated furniture, and confronted their nude flesh with both keen interest and a kind of clinical impassiveness. In this work he typically used a limited tonal range of creamy tans and browns. In studies such as Night Portrait (1985–86), Freud both highlighted and undercut the erotics of the female nude, opting out of the idealizing tendencies of much of the history of Western art. Beginning in the 1980s, Freud was increasingly drawn toward what could be called extreme body types. His work maintained the place of traditional subject matter in art while introducing personal and psychological attitudes that are fully modern.

Additional Reading
William Feaver, Lucian Freud (2002), an exhibition catalogue; Robert Hughes, Lucian Freud Paintings, rev. ed. (1989, reissued 2003).

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Universalium. 2010.

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