Few artists achieve the stature that Lucian Freud did in his lifetime. Over a career spanning nearly 70 years he became the greatest British painter of the 20th century, a modern Master who relentlessly pursued his own esoteric project to capture the human body in all its frailty, obscenity and beauty. ‘I want,’ he once said, ‘my painting to be as flesh. For me the painting is the person and I want its effect on me to be the same as the effect of flesh.’ In an age when figurative painting was seen to be dwindling in relevance, becoming little more than a genteel academic tradition, Freud’s work would prove its continuous and startling power.
Freud was born in Berlin, the son of architect Ernst Freud and grandson of Sigmund Freud, and came to London with his family at the age of 11. He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, attended courses at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing under Cedric Morris, and then at London’s Goldsmiths College. With Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach he was a leading light of the 1950s avant-garde circle surrounding the Colony Room Club in London’s Soho. His early work focused on drawing, but from the early 1940s he was painting extraordinary Surrealism-inspired images. Over the 1950s his surrealism ebbed into realism, a shift beautifully exampled in Interior at Paddington (1951) and Hotel Bedroom (1954).
By the late 1950s he had turned emphatically to the study of the human form, initially in exquisite portraits and half-nudes and then, from the 1960s onwards, in full nudes such as his masterpiece Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). Always depicted in the isolated universe of his studio, Freud’s subjects were often friends, family, models of long standing or, indeed, himself. This deeply personal approach seemed to sit at odds with the starkness of his presentation, but it forms a part of the enduring fascination of his work.
Together with the works of his friend, Francis Bacon, Freud’s paintings, prints and drawings are some of the world’s most valuable works of contemporary art.
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