Friday, July 22, 2011

British painter Lucian Freud dies at 88

Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88.
He died following a brief illness, said William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, Mr. Freud's dealer.
Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, already was an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art.
In paintings like "Girl With Roses" (1947-48) and "Girl With a White Dog" (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter's social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends and intimates — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist's ruthless inspection.
From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud's nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.
The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.
William Feaver, a British critic who organized a Freud retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002, said: "Freud has generated a life's worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting."

He often turned his gaze on himself. In several unflattering self-portraits, Freud painted himself in various states of undress, his aging body exposed. He frequently painted friends and close associates, and even created a nude portrait of his daughter Bella, a noted fashion designer.

"He was an extremely brave painter in the way he confronted his figures. He brought a whole new meaning to figurative painting and was extremely influential on the generations that followed," said Gretchen Berggruen, a co-owner of the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco.

A major exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington in 1987 helped boost Freud's reputation in the United States. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a retrospective of his work.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown L.A. held a retrospective in 2003 that was organized by the Tate Britain. The exhibition featured more than 100 paintings, drawings and prints, as well as new pieces.

"Freud is in reality a fine painter with a very narrow repertoire," Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote in his review of the show. Comparing him to artist Stanley Spencer, an earlier practitioner of nude portraiture, Knight wrote that "Freud's art is rarely so complex, but sometimes it does have the capacity to beguile."

Freud's personal life was a subject of much scrutiny and speculation. After his divorce from Garman, Freud was married for several years to Caroline Blackwood before they divorced. He fathered children from a number of relationships. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

By some accounts a prickly personality, Freud reportedly did not get along with his brother Clement, the British TV personality who died in 2009.

"In company he was exciting, humble, warm and witty," his art dealer, Acquavella, said in a statement. "He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world.

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