Sunday, August 14, 2011

Artist of the Month-Lucian Freud

Reflection (Self Portrait)
oil on canvas

I would be remiss if I did not do an Artist of the Month of Lucian Freud (1922-2011), who passed away last month. Called the greatest English master painter since Gainsborough, Freud was by far the most famous and successful painter of the past generation and regarded as the painter laureate of Britain. For a generation every artist who has struggled to do alla prima life studies can thank Freud.

As a student in the 1940's and an emerging career through the 1970's Freud is remarkable for his stalwart resistance to abstract modern painting. Facing contemporary painters like Stella and Rothko in America, Freud painted unabashedly figurative portraits with classical oil techniques. The first response to his work is the surface of his paintings. Having been known to work on his portraits for thousands of hours, the surface of impasto, tonal brushwork is built up in thick layers until the paintings take on an almost sculptural quality bringing dimension and life to his work. The realist and candid compositions of his subjects creates a voyeuristic mood relating the model to the painter and then to the viewer. Looking into Freud's work for me is like looking into art history. I see Courbet and Rembrandt in his brushwork and palette, as well as Manet and Cezanne in his stark presentation of the figure. Freud's work is also reminiscent of some of his contemporaries such as Alice Neel, Chuck Close and Eric Fischl.

Night Portrait
oil on canvas

In the 1980's the advent of Post Modernism and the emergence of figurative art and Neo-Expressionism, made Freud extremely popular. He quickly rose to the top of the art world where his paintings remained big sellers for the rest of his life. In 2008 his 1996 painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (below) set a world record for a sale by a living painter, fetching almost $34 million, and in 2000 was commissioned to paint the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the past decade however, Freud's legacy has been debated. Was Freud a revolutionary painter who reinvented the medium of painting and the subject of portraiture? or was he merely an artist who's popularity exceeded his talent and spawned a thousand copy-cats? Only the perspective of time will tell. This debate always takes place with the death of a great artist who is great during his own lifetime. Picasso and Monet fared well, while others like Gerome and Bouguereau were cast aside. With his passing, Freud's place in the pantheon of the art history canon will be argued and discussed by much more learned academics than me.



Benefits Supervisor Sleeping
oil on canvas

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

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