Painting obsession: Lucian Freud

February 15, 2022

In a world that changes aesthetic parameters the artist makes figurative painting his life companion

The great London retrospective of 2002 definitively celebrated Lucian Freud as a hero and offered the world the opportunity to talk about this eighty- year-old man with illustrious relatives and acquaintances, starting from his grandfather Sigmund and his two wives, Kitty Garman, daughter of Jacob Epstein and the heiress Caroline Blackwood. He attends important English salons, but as his friend Francis Bacon he does not disdain London’s slums, especially Paddington, where he lived since the early ‘40s. In over seventy years, in a world that is changing aesthetic parameters by putting realism out of play, Lucian Freud has no second thoughts; figurative painting will be the undisputed companion of his existence. To family members, friends and acquaintances he reserves the prize of being immortalized for eternity provided that they have a lot of patience, since the posing sessions can be endless. He is not satisfied with photographs; the subject to look at must be close, like in hand-to-hand combat he must be able to pierce it with his gaze. A gaze that becomes an instrument of reality and at the same time of transcendence: the pictorial material is skin, flesh, the form of a woman, man, animal, object, space and soul.


The screaming existential unease of the distorted bodies and faces of Bacon, which free the viewer from the horror of being able to immediately reflect in them, opposes the exasperated realism that leaves no escape. An almost voyeuristic attraction forces us to travel with him among the shapes, to linger on the vibrant epidermis of the bodies almost as if we wanted to touch them, among the decomposed drapes that welcome merciless and vulnerable nudity. “Obsession with the subject is the only impulse necessary for the painter to get to work,” he suggests, but who are the witnesses to his obsession, beyond reality itself? With this unprecedented slant, the exhibition “Lucian Freud: Real Lives,” at the Tate in Liverpool, puts the emphasis on his subjects, from his early work in ‘46 with his wife Kitty to portraits of his children Bella, Kai and his anguished mother, to bodies, including his own, looked at with their natural imperfections as everything around them. “I want the frequentation of a master to reveal myself”, wrote Cézanne, and Lucian Freud has frequented many masters: Dürer, Grünewald, Velázquez, Titian, Rembrandt, Watteaw, Ingres and Courbet, all of whom have left him some clue. He is an insatiable archaeologist of the soul and seducer of life, that with his painting gives everyone the opportunity to enter the scene and continue this investigation.


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