Lucian Freud – Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

A quick note on the Lucian Freud exhibition, ending 27 May at the National Portrait Gallery.

I think Freud’s work is a new kind of modern portraiture, because he has returned to a kind of naturalism. I know very little about art history and Freud’s intentions, but I paint and visit galleries as often as I can; with certainty I can say that Freud creates portraits that make you feel as though you are seeing people. The paint constructs every hollow, shadow and imperfection but in a beautiful, painterly manner. I like his avoidance of professional models, producing poses that are shy, enquiring and reticent. Like photographs of Freud himself, it is gently startling to see faces in the gallery that look into the onlooker’s gaze; into the ‘camera’. The progression he has made into a more textured technique, which you observe towards the end of the gallery, I couldn’t quite decide about… was it to more realistically paint skin? to draw attention to the painter’s material, a little modernist?

The Sue Tilley “Big Sue” room of paintings, large in canvas scale and model’s size, was the most underwhelming of the exhibition. They sold for vast amounts of money, making Freud a household name in 2008, and I appreciate the fact that they perhaps epitomise the fixation Freud had with flesh, but I felt these paintings had the least character of any in the exhibition. Not capturing ‘real’ moments, like the truth that appears to emanate from Hockney’s slightly disgruntled, off-glance – endearing all the same.

Freud, Lucian (1922- ) in his Studio with David Hockney by David Dawson

A friend was verging on tears in the last room, seeing the unfinished wall of a whippet and a nude man – David Dawson, Freud’s gallery assistant – the tragedy that the painting would have been finished now, whilst it hangs sadly incomplete at the end of genius’ life work at the NPG.

I urge all to get tickets before this beautiful presentation of an incredibly original and influential artists’ life-work finishes.