20 February 2012

Lucien Freud Portraits at the NPG

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London is currently showing Lucien Freud Portraits, the first major retrospective of Lucien Freud (1922-2011) since Tate Britain’s in 2002. So much is available about Freud and his work that it needs little description here. Martin Gayford’s description of his experiences sitting for Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, is fascinating and informative, and the resulting work, Man in a Blue Scarf (2004) is in the NPG exhibition. David Dawson worked for over 20 years as Lucian Freud's assistant, occasionally his model, and was able to take many revealing photographs of the artist at work. He discusses these at The Economist and also his own work at the BBC.

As with the Tate retrospective (with which there is an inevitable overlap), the works on display at the NPG clearly show the change in technique from fine sable brushwork to the heavy application using hog bristle which Freud settled on the late 1950s. Two of the Freud paintings on show were made with explicit reference to other artists (see below).

One of the NPG’s publications to go with their show is Painting People. This might have been more accurate description than Portraits, given that some of the subjects are as much concerned with the human form as portraiture. But there are many conventional portraits whch clearly demonstrate Freud’s ability to capture his sitter’s personality.

Lucien Freud Portraits continues at the NPG until 28 May. Without hesitation, my ‘Anticipointment Index’ rating (out of 5, the lower the better) is 1.

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