Thursday, 9 February 2012

Waxy Faces and Acres of Flesh: 'Lucian Freud Portraits' at National Portrait Gallery, London

The National Portrait Gallery's addition to 2012s bunch of blockbuster shows is a huge gathering together of portraits by the recently deceased Lucian Freud.

Freud's later works are very familiar; acres of creamy flesh, flaccid members and ghastly blue veins. There is no sign of Kate Moss in this collection but Leigh Bowery, Big Sue and numerous other models are very much in evidence. Skipping past these my favourite works are from early on in Freud's career - much smaller and flatter than the big flesh pots they are somehow both more tender and darker.

Lucien Freud, Boy Smoking, 1950-1

Boy Smoking is quite possibly my favourite Freud painting. In common with other work of the early period the skin tones are almost deathly pallid with a curious waxy quality and the features quite stylised. The boy himself looks like an archetypal teenager of the time - part Brando part teddy boy. The painting is very small and tightly framed - constrained within its surroundings - with only the languidly placed cigarette leading the eye out of the frame. 

Lucian Freud, A Girl (detail), 1946, conte, crayon & chalk

A Girl, 1946, a conte crayon drawing, shows a downward looking woman with almost schematically painted hair which was quite typical of Freud's work at the time. What raises this above the ordinary is her left eye which within this closely observed work has only a slither of white showing and consequently is almost completely black.

Lucian Freud, Girl with a Kitten, 1947, oil on canvas.

Girl With a Kitten, 1947 is an extraordinarily unsettling painting. A girl looks blankly out of the canvas while her right hand holds a kitten. The kitten stares directly at us and appears to be unperturbed by her fingers which are tightly wound around its tiny neck. This painting along with a number of other nearby works is of Freud's first wife - Kitty Garman who described sitting for Freud as 'like being arranged'

Cathy Lomax

Lucian Freud, 'Portraits' 
National Portrait Gallery, London
9 February - 27 May 2012

1 comment:

  1. The early stuff is his best. It was someone like David Sylvester or Lord Clarke that described him back then as the Ingres of the existential set.

    Look back in Ingres, I say!