Lucien Freud

Possibly the greatest British portrait painter died last week, 20th July aged 88.

Despite his worldwide fame and the astonishing value of his work (in 2008 his life size work “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping”, sold at auction for £17.2m setting a new record for a work by a living artist) Freud was a reclusive and withdrawn man, and I thought it very telling that in the various TV news articles reporting his death, there was hardly any actual footage of him, just some stills and the usual platitudes from a collection of talking heads.

Freud’s mature style is immediately recognisable; heavy swathes of layered paint and a strong use and understanding of shadows, depict with an apparently uncanny ability, the very essence of his sitter.

Freud was renown for making his sitters (almost always people he knew) sit for extraordinary periods of time. I have come across this story which suggests that Freud and his female model spent a staggering 16 months producing the painting below. Between April 2006 and August 2007, they met seven nights a week for about five hours each night, taking only four evenings off throughout this whole period. This represents a total of about 2400 hours work, which quite frankly is crazy… who on earth has got that much time to lie naked on a couch…

Never one to shy away from painting exactly how he saw his model, the portrait of the Queen is a typical case in point, and although time and familiarity have softened its effect to some degree, it is still a very striking and original work, and one that was not particularly appreciated by Her Majesty (I wonder how long she sat patiently for Mr. Freud.. I can’t imagine it was as long as he would have liked…)

Quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest British Artists of all time, he was also one of the last of the great figurative painters, someone for whom craft and effort were always more important than financial reward and fame.

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