One of the UK’s most prolific and well known portrait artists, Lucian Freud is best known for his candid and visceral paintings, which brought raw humanity straight up to the forefront of the picture plane. The new show at the National Portrait gallery shows lots of paintings from all stages in his career – 130 in total. Several of the pieces have never been publicly exhibited before.
Usefully, the show is in chronological order, so you really get a feel of the progression of Freud’s style. His early paintings are especially interesting; they have a flat and graphic feel in comparison to the fleshy and hyper-real content of his best known pieces.
The marked change in Freud’s style came about in 1954, when he began a) to use hogshair brushes, and b) to paint standing up. This brought a looseness and sense of movement to his painting style – also he began to include the whole figure, as opposed to painting just head or top-half portraits.
Three well-known pieces included in the exhibition are Naked Girl (1966), Leigh Under a Skylight (1994), and Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). ‘Naked Girl’ was Freud’s first full-length nude, and uses colour to emphasise muscle and contour, using relatively few visible brushstrokes.
Leigh Under A Skylight shows performance artist Leigh Bowery, who usually presents a carefully constructed artistic persona, literally stripped bare. The ultra-candid Benefits Supervisor Sleeping caused a media storm when it was purchased by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich.
Along with Freud’s paintings, the exhibition includes photographs of the artist at work; one shows him with his portrait of David Hockney, another of him painting the Queen.