Art Review - Lucian Freud Portraits

Posted by Anthony Page

Lucian Freud's art retains its power to inspire and reveal as this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery shows

Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 Private Collection, Ireland © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud ArchiveLast week I was lucky enough to go to the press viewing of the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition, which took place at the National Portrait Gallery in St. Martins Place, near Trafalgar Square, London.

Usually, exhibitions about dead artists are referred to as ‘retrospectives’, but this is not the case here. Freud himself was intimately involved in creating the exhibition until his death last July. His work was continued by his long time assistant David Dawson, who features at the exhibition as the subject of Freud's last unfinished, portrait.

Visitors can trace the artist’s early development through drawings and etchings to those paintings from the 1960s. This was when Freud started standing rather than sitting at his easel to paint full length nudes with thicker brushes and more dense application of pigments.

The rest of the 130 canvases include portraits and nudes of Freud’s family, friends, lovers and models – he seldom took commissions and was intensely private about his work. David Hockney and Freud also agreed to do portraits of one another – Hockney sat for 130 hours arriving at the studio early each morning and leaving at lunchtime. When Freud returned the favour he gave Hockney two and a half hours!

The nude canvases are awesome and in some ways grotesque with their exaggerated realism – but like many things that shock they also fascinate. At the same time, some of the portraits show a depth of the sitter's personality of the sitter that is quite poignant. This is particularly true of one painting, ‘The Brigadier’, featuring one Andrew Parker Bowles.

One portrait that is not on show is that of the Queen – this is in a travelling exhibition doing the rounds for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. What you will see, however, is an eclectic selection of sitters and models ranging from Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, Francis Bacon (friend and drinking partner),the artist’s mother, George Dyer, Frank Auerbach and, of course, the famed ‘Benefits Supervisor.’

Lucian Freud Portraits runs from 9 February-27 May 2012 at The National Portrait Gallery, London. Tickets cost £14.00, or £13.00 for senior citizens. Other concessions cost £12.00. Under 12s go free. Click HERE to book. 

For more images from this show visit Lucian Freud Portraits group on Olderiswiser

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