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Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
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The Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is arranged chronologically over ten rooms.

The tour begins in the 1940s, a period when he was experimenting with self-portraits, as well as paintings of his friend and patron, Cedric Morris, and of his first wife, Kitty Garman. He didn't work in this style for too long, and these early paintings would be quite a surprise for somebody who is more familiar with his later style.

Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Girl with a Kitten (1947). Picture Courtesy of the Tate Collection


Hotel Bedroom (1954) was the last painting he created sitting down at an easel.

Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Hotel Bedroom (1954) Showing Freud and his Second Wife, Caroline Blackwood. Picture Courtesy of the Tate Collection


From now on he worked standing up and painted with coarse, hog's hair brushes. By the time he painted Woman Smiling in 1958-9 his fascination with the human face was becoming more evident and within a few years he was working with complete figures, rather than just with faces. This portrait (of the artist, Suzy Boyt, who became his lover and mother of his children) also marks a turning point towards the work that we associate with him.

Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Woman Smiling (1958-9) Picture Courtesy of WikiPaintings


In 1977 he moved to a larger west London studio, which permitted him the freedom to paint on a larger scale and to extend his pictures to encompass the surroundings of the subjects. He insisted that his sitters remained present, even when they weren't being painted. He undertook a series of paintings of his own mother and these remain as a record of the relationship shared between the two of them. At this period he was working on several paintings at the same time, separating his pictures into day and night, using both natural and artificial light.

During the late 1990s he met Leigh Bowery, the Australian performance artist, and painted several nude pictures of him. Through Bowery he was introduced to Sue Tilley, who he painted as part of the 'Benefits Supervisor' series. He was fascinated with her size and portrayed her bodily imperfections, including scars and stretch marks.

Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) Picture Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery Website


The final twenty years of his life were taken up with painting family members and of his assistant, David Dawson. He continued his fascination with female nudes and painted several pictures of Dawson, and his whippets. His last unfinished work is Portrait of the Hound, where sitter and pet are depicted as equals, and reminds us that the third painting in the exhibition, painted in 1947, is Girl with a Kitten, depicting Kitty and a kitten.

This is how we will probably remember him.

Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Self Portrait (1985) Picture Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery Website

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Why? To see a fantastic exhibition featuring the works of a truly great British painter who died last year
When: Saturday - Wednesday 10.00-1800, Thursday and Friday 10.00-21.00
Where: The National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE
Cost: 14, but concessions are available
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