Lucian Freud: New Perspectives
By Theresa Thompson, Timeless Travels' Art Correspondent
Lucian Freud, Reflection with Two Children (Self-portrait), 1965, Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images / photo Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
If, like me in these straitened times you thought that you might just let this one pass, think again. I did, and found that the National Gallery’s exhibition to mark the centenary of the birth of Lucian Freud (1922-2011) is a tremendous retrospective and really shouldn’t be missed.
I’d remembered well the major, and I mean major 2012 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, that explored Lucian Freud’s portraits across seven decades of his career. So I thought I’d likely have seen most of the works that would be in the National Gallery’s exhibition, which covers the same seven decades. But no, that didn’t matter at all, for this is no duplication, and you can take this exhibition at a leisurely pace and focus just on the art itself.
From start to finish this exhibition feels generous, spacious. Its comfortably curated rooms, its portraits and paintings not all annotated, unobtrusive gallery introductions – and the little, or complete lack of concentration on the relationships or lives of the subjects - frees you up, so you end up just looking at the works of art, and the sometimes-nameless characters within them. How refreshing that is, and far easier to avoid the trap of taking as much, if not more time, reading the label as looking at the art.
Lucian Freud, Girl with a Kitten, 1947, Oil on canvas. Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022 / photo Tate
There are some 60 works on view. From early self-portraits of Freud staring out, almond-eyed at the world - simple, direct self-examinations – to the final gallery entitled, The Flesh, which brings together some of his most famous large-scale naked portraits, it shows the full force and range of this great figurative painter’s art.
The highlights come thick and fast in this exhibition, there’s so many fabulous pictures, but among them are Freud’s fascinating self-portrait Man with a Feather (1943); the wide-eyed girl who seems to be strangling an equally wide-eyed kitten, Girl With a Kitten, 1947 (in fact, a portrait of Freud’s first wife, Kitty Garman); the well-known portrait of Freud with a thistle, the lesser known one of refugees, portraits of power, of intimacy, of London studios and fellow artists – including Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Elinor Bellingham-Smith – plus a surprise to me, his picture of buttercups (which may whet your appetite for the Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits exhibition at the Garden Museum until 5 March 2023).
Lucian Freud, Buttercups, 1968, oil on canvas, Private collection.
© The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022/ Bridgeman Images
Famous later masterpieces such as the colossal, magnificent And the Bridegroom (1993), in which the performance artist Leigh Bowery lies naked on a bed next to the tiny figure of his wife, Nicola, and the powerful The Brigadier, painted 2003-4, come towards the end this wonderful show.
I loved the opportunity the exhibition gave me to look again at Freud’s paintings, in my case not bothering much with any complex narratives behind them, but simply to enjoy these tender yet unsentimental depictions of human flesh and frailty.
Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, says: ’The Freud centenary exhibition at the National Gallery offers the opportunity to reconsider the artist's achievement in the broader context of the tradition of European painting. He was a frequent visitor to the Gallery whose paintings challenged and inspired him.’
Dr Finaldi’s remark reminds me of the Lucian Freud quote they have up in the opening gallery: “I go to the National Gallery rather like going to a doctor for help.”
Given today’s zeitgeist, I think I might take his lead on that.
The Credit Suisse Exhibition – Lucian Freud: New Perspectives
Rooms 1-8, National Gallery, London
Showing until: 22 January 2023
and then at the:
Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid
Showing from 14 February - 18 June 2023
Lucian Freud: New Perspectives is curated by Daniel F. Herrmann, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Projects at the National Gallery in collaboration with Paloma Alarcó, Chief Curator of Modern Painting, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. David Dawson, from the Lucian Freud Archive, has provided generous advice.
As a response to the cost-of-living crisis the National Gallery is to introduce its first Pay What You Wish scheme for an exhibition. On Friday evenings throughout the run of The Credit Suisse Exhibition – Lucian Freud: New Perspectives visitors will be able to pay as much or as little as they like.
For slots between 5.30pm and 9pm on Fridays, tickets for the exhibition can be booked in advance online (nationalgallery.org.uk), on the phone, or in person for a minimum payment of £1. Visitors will also have the opportunity to attend Gallery Friday Late talks and events and enjoy later opening hours at the Gallery’s shops, bars and restaurants.
Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London, says: “The cost of an exhibition ticket can sometimes make it difficult to visit. While most of our temporary exhibitions are free, the Pay What You Wish scheme will enable practically anyone who wants to see the Freud centenary show to do so.”