Saturday, 28 April 2012

Lucien Freud at the National Portrait Gallery

Lucien Freud Portraits is showing at the National Portrait Gallery until 27 May, 2012. Last week we went along to see this incredible collection of his work spanning seven decades, beginning with his earliest portrait works. The exhibition is arranged chronologically, which is fascinating on many levels. Not only in that you can see how Freud's work develops and changes over time, but also how it doesn't!

The works remains raw and pure throughout, but the style changes from more simplified portraits (including a fabulous
pencil drawing of Francis Bacon) to full blown, all out coarsely oil painted bodies rippling with flesh. The vast Benefits Supervisor (Big Sue) paintings are mesmerising. Freud was initially fascinated by her size, and you can see why.

Many of the portraits are of friends, family and colleagues. But there is also a wonderful photograph of Freud painting the Queen. The contrast between how this was painted and how his other works were approached is striking; many of Freud's sitters are naked, sprawling across shabby furniture in what seems squalid conditions. The Queen sits perfectly poised, with a tiara, on a red and gold chair, resting on a podium covered in rich red cloth, with her bag perched neatly by her feet. A world away from Freud's usual set ups!

Many people find Freud's portraits depressing. I found they truly reached the essence of the subjects. The many portraits of his mother, especially the one of her sleeping, arms above her head just like a baby, are really very moving. Ironically the one portrait of Bowery's wife, painted at the time of his death, is the one which shows most facial lightness.

Freud's depiction of dogs is exquisite. Whilst walking around, I received a text from my daughter standing in front of a painting of Pluto saying simply 'I want a whippet'.

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