Painter Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, died on this day one year ago, and it is on this anniversary that we reflect on the English artist’s extraordinary legacy. Perhaps best-known for his nude portraits, Freud perfected his style of portraiture during a period in the history of modern art when the artist abandoned representation and adopted abstraction. To many, his style is considered realist and Freud often commented on his work in similar terms. To the artist and Freud biographer Lawrence Gowing, Freud said, “For me the paint is the person” and to the art critic Robert Hughes, “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me…That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness.” In Mr. Hughes’s words, Freud was simply “the greatest living realist painter”
But in many ways, his style transcended the realist tradition—Freud painted life in a magnificently unique and powerful style. In memoriam to the artist, Starr Figura of MoMA last year wrote the excerpt below which offers a vivid description of Freud’s dynamic style and personality:
The first time I met Freud, when I was preparing the Museum’s 2007 exhibition, I told him that one of the things I admired most about his etchings was the way they could be appreciated for their realism and their abstraction, all at once. That you could look at them as a straight representation of the sitter, but then when you really started to look and spend time with them, what emerged was a mesmerizing abstraction; you lost yourself in the messy beauty of his accumulated lines. I sputtered something to that effect, and Freud, who had said very little to that point, turned to look at me and replied, “You make me want to do more.”
A retrospective of Freud’s portraits, “Lucian Freud: Portraits” was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London this year; the exhibition was hugely popular. Eager viewers flocked from all over Europe to see the 130 works assembled in the small rooms of the gallery. The United States welcomed the same exhibition at the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art on July 1. From his portrait of the Queen to his huge portraits of exposed flesh, Freud has made a lasting mark on modern art that continues to influence artists living today.