Lucian Freud

Biography of Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud can lay claim to being one of the most influential figurative painters of the post-war era. Alongside his great friend the painter Francis Bacon, with whom he had a highly combustible relationship, Freud galvanized the medium of painting with his raw flesh tones and distinct textures.

Born in 1922, the young artist grew up in Berlin, Germany until he was forced to leave with his family in 1933 to escape the rising tide of antisemitism then sweeping the country. Settling in Britain he was invalidated out of World War II after serving in the Merchant Navy, and attended Goldsmiths College in London in 1942. It was until 1951 that his career really gathered pace after he had won a prize for his painting Interior at Paddington at the Festival of Britain.

It was around this time that he became loosely associated with a group of artists known as the The School of London which included Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. By the late-1950s he began moving away from his youthful and precise painting style and embracing portraiture—usually nudes—and embracing a freer style and thicker paint. Concentrating on flesh tones and their textures became a preoccupation of the artist who preferred to paint standing up.

Although the titles would be anonymous many of the sitters in his works were well known to the artist and were often family, friends, lovers and even fellow artists. The “subject matter is autobiographical” the artist once stated, “it’s all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really.” The demands he would put his sitters under was nothing short of grueling, many being forced to sit for five hours a day and compelled to return on and off for many months. Fortunately, Freud was a famed story-teller and could be hilariously funny. Usually he would start each painting by drawing in charcoal and always making his first brush strokes on the head area as a means of “getting to know” the person.

No other artist before him had so meticulously and expressively painted human genitalia before. His relentless circumspection and proud self-absorption is reflected in his multiple self-portraits which are laden with psychological drama, some attribute this to the fact that he is the grandson of Sigmund Freud. He was also a famed producer of limited editions and multiples, his etchings are startlingly original and often feature meticulously drawn figures often in a cropped, bare background.

In 2002 Tate Britain held a huge retrospective of his work and in 2008 his etchings were featured in an exhibition at MoMA, New York. In 2010 he exhibited at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and a year after his death in 2012 his portraits featured in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Freud is collected around the world and features in many of the most prominent collections. In 2015 his work Benefits Supervisor Resting sold for $56.2 million at a Christie’s auction in New York. 

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