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Lucian Freud : The Self-portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

Exhibition from 27 October 2019 until 26 January 2020 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Born in Berlin in 1922, Lucian Freud is considered to be one of the most famous figurative painters of last century. The exhibition is the first to focus on the celebrated artist's visceral, and unflinching, self-portraits executed over seven decades on canvas and paper.


15 Octobre 2019
     

Man with a Feather, 1943, oil on canvas, 76,2x50,8cm, private collection©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images
Man with a Feather, 1943, oil on canvas, 76,2x50,8cm, private collection©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

Over 50 works chart the artist's development from the earlier more linear and graphic works to the fleshier painterly style that became the hallmark of his later work

The exhibition follows a loose chronology in six sections which reveal Freud's unexpectedly broad exploration of the genre. Lucian Freud had trouble perceiving himself : "I do not accept the information that I get when I look at myself, and that's where the trouble starts." His early career was influenced by surrealism, but by the early 1950s his paintings tended towards realism and drawing became less prevalent. Freud always demanded long, repeated sittings with his models. He commenced with studies of their heads, at times in the form of charcoal sketches, and then the rest of their bodies followed.

The trouble Lucian Freud mentioned above, led to continuous confrontation with his self-image that accompanied his questioning of paint. In the introductory section, his first major self-portrait Man with a Feather, 1943, is placed next to his late work, Self-portrait, Reflection, 2002, both from private collections. The earlier work reveals light brushwork typical of his early period, while the latter exemplifies the use of impasto and the technical diversity of his mature work.

The second section focuses on Freud's early works, including drawings and sketchbooks, revealing playfulness in the presentation of his own self-image. He depicted himself in mythological guise as Actaeon (Self-portrait with Antlers) in 1949, or as a character in illustrations for plays and stories such as Flyda and Arvid in 1947. The artist began to place himself in and out of the frame, like when his eyes peered out from the bottom of the page, or as a side-profile on the edge of the canvas such as his Still-life with a Green Lemon in 1947.
 

Hotel Bedroom, 1954, oil on canvas, 91,5x61cm. The Beaverbrook Foundation, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton. Gift of the Beaverbrook Foundation ©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images
Hotel Bedroom, 1954, oil on canvas, 91,5x61cm. The Beaverbrook Foundation, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton. Gift of the Beaverbrook Foundation ©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

Gradual Transition to a more mature style in the 1950s

Freud's transition to a more mature style began with changes to his working method. Hotel Bedroom,1954, was his last work painted while sitting down at the easel because Freud wished to free himself from that constraint and paint while standing up. The influence of his friendship with Francis Bacon was revealed when he began using coarser hog-hair brushes like in his 1956 Self-portrait to emphasize an increasingly sweeping impasto where he laid paint so thickly that it stood up from the canvas.

In the following two sections of the show, more sketchbooks and unfinished portraits dominate. Here it is evident that Freud enjoyed giving his brush-work a sharper edge to suggest a door lintel or the separation between a wall and the floor, disclosing his studio as the work location. He added a deeper three-dimensional aspect to his work, and began to use mirrors as a reflected source of unknown aspects of his own self-image, evident in Hand Mirror on Chair, 1966, (yet another painting from a private collection).

Freud's later self-portraits expose his mastery of paint together with his uncomprising self-image. Imposing works such as Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985, on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, reveal the penetrating stare and intensity for which he was renowned throughout his career. Shortly after he turned 70, in 1993, Freud completed Painter Working, Reflection and stated : "Now the very least I can do is paint myself naked." He had already painted others nude, so then he turned his unflinching gaze onto himself, depicting himself naked except for a pair of unlaced boots.
 

Self-portrait, Reflection, 2002, oil on canvas, 66x50,8 cm, private collection. ©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images
Self-portrait, Reflection, 2002, oil on canvas, 66x50,8 cm, private collection. ©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

Final self-portraits and the painter's journey until his death on July 20, 2011 in London

Between 2002 and 2003, Freud painted two additional self-portraits, reflecting the sombre mood of his 80s. Clutching his scarf and resting his chin on his hand, his face is gaunt and layered by thick paint. His life journey is charted in the change from the young boy to the old man. It is clear that few other artists last century have portrayed themselves with such consistency.

Born in Berlin on December 8, 1922, to Ernst L. Freud, the grand-son of Sigmund Freud, he soon fled to Britain with the rest of the family in 1933 to escape Nazism. Freud first attended the East Anglian School of Painting in 1939, after enrolling in the Central School of Arts and Crafts the previous year. He moved to London in 1943 and became intensely involved with the London arts scene, forming a very close relationship with Francis Bacon. 

At only 22, Freud was given his first show by the Lefevre Gallery in London. Earlier in his career, Freud was influenced by surrealism, but by the early 1950s his style changed as he became bored with that. Soon he began to paint standing up as mentioned before, and by 1966 Freud moved from painting only heads of sitters to concentrate on full-length portraits, although his own self-portraits were focused on his head and torso.

Freud had moved to a top-floor apartment in Holland Park which remained his studio for the rest of his career. In 1990 he met the artist David Dawson who became his studio assistant. Dawson remained his close friend, assistant and model until Freud's death in 2011. In 1993, Freud was made a member of the Order of Merit, limited to only 24 living recipients at one time. He died at the age of 88, having worked until two weeks before his death. Freud had remained an intensely private man, and his paintings, completed over 60 years, are mostly of friends and family.
 

Startled Man: Self-portrait, 1948, Pencil on Paper, 22,9x14,3 cm, private collection © The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images
Startled Man: Self-portrait, 1948, Pencil on Paper, 22,9x14,3 cm, private collection © The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

Organisation of the exhibition

The exhibition is organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In London the show opens from 27 October 2019 until 26 January 2020 and then travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 1 March until 25 May 2020.

The show is curated by Jasper Sharp, Adjunct Curator for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and David Dawson, formerly Freud's studio assistant, painter and photographer, in cooperation with Andrea Tarsia, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from David Dawson, Joseph Koerner, Jasper Sharp and Sebastian Smee, is still in preparation : ISBN 9781912520060, 2019.
 


Lucian Freud : The Self-portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts, London
Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London WIJ0BD
Telephone : +44 20 7 300 8090
Open daily : from 10 am - 6 pm (last admission 5.30 pm)
Fridays : until 10pm (last admission 9.30 pm)
Admission full price : £18, concessions available,
Under 16 go free as do members of RA
Tickets available daily at the RA or at www.royalacademy.org.uk
Nearest Tube stations are : Piccadilly Circus, Green Park, Oxford Circus and Bond Street.
 

Kunang Helmi-Picard
Free lance journalism (Indonesia, for The Jakarta Post, Dewi and other Indonesian publications,... En savoir plus sur cet auteur

Cet article cite : londres, lucian freud, surréalisme


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