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Lucian Freud Portraits

A trip to the National Portrait Gallery marks my first foray into the thought-provoking world of realist painter Lucian Freud. He worked closely with the curators of this exhibition in recent years, right up until his death last July, aged 88. An entire floor has been dedicated to the seven decades of his work, which is known for its creamy, dreamlike quality, and of course, nudity.

And there's a lot of it. Freud did not believe in a generic skin type and his paintings reflect the personal intricacies of each model, capturing an inherent vulnerability. This is exaggerated in different ways throughout his works. 'Baby on a Green Sofa' and 'Naked Girl' demonstrate a recurrent pose where the sitter's arms are raised instinctively above the head while lying down, exposing the subject completely. Meanwhile, the portraits of Freud's wife Kitty and of Big Sue show how this vulnerability can be portrayed through the eyes also, whether wide open or tightly closed. In 'Girl in a Dark Jacket', Kitty's eyes are explosive and exposed, off- set by her medieval-maiden appearance, though in 'Girl with a White Dog', her eyes are softer, almost in an uneasy way by contrast to the former. Big Sue, a fond nickname for sitter Sue Tilley, has her eyes closed in all her paintings, conveying a sense of objection or a plead for privacy. Instead, her interesting body proportions provide the drama, something that Freud felt was essential to avoid an artwork simply being 'just paint out of a tube'.

For me, the most striking examples of Freud's interest in capturing vulnerability can be seen in the paintings of his mother, Lucie. The powerfully close bond between the two is blatant, especially in 'Artist's Mother Resting'. Freud painted his mother in her old age, when she was grieving the loss of his father. She sunk into a deep depression, and this pain and rawness comes across in the images. I found myself gazing at these for some time. Like an optical illusion, it eventually seemed as though she was breathing. Her soul and spirit seemed alive, real. But she also looked drained and empty. Perhaps Henry Diamond, photographer friend and sitter for Freud, summed it up best/ 'If someone is interested in getting your essence down on canvas, they are also drawing your essence out of you'.

Freud's interest in the fleshy innocence of humanity has engrossed me. As I leave his world, I consider how the vulnerability he portrays is linked to the subject's body language, eyes, nudity and expression. This may have been my first encounter of Freud, but certainly will not be the last.

Lucian Freud Portraits is open at the National Portrait Gallery from 9 February - 27 May 2012
Advance booking advised.

Image Credits, thumbnails from left to right.

Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985. Private Collection, Ireland © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive
Naked Portrait, 1972-3. Tate: Purchased 1975 © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive
Girl in a Dark Jacket, 1947. Private Collection © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive
Girl with a White Dog, 1950-1.Tate: Purchased 1952 © Tate, London 2012
Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995. Private Collection © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive

Anneka Wahlhaus
11:49 - 22/02/12