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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lucian Freud

Every one of us stands in the shadow of the previous generation. Sometimes, there are families where fine art extends back several generations. The Wyeth family is one such example, where the younger generation stands in a very large shadow indeed, bearing a name that is almost synonymous with fine painting at least along the easter seaboard. The same situation exists in families such as the Barrymores in film and theater, the John and Julian Lennon in rock music, as well as Nat and Natalie Cole in pop music. Two hundred years ago in Philadelphia it was Benjamin Peale and his numerous offspring perpetuating a family tradition. In London today, there is an artist in a similar situation, whose grandfather's name is so instantly recognizable it has become the root of an adjective.  His name is Lucian Freud, and his work could very wll be considered "Freudian" both in the context of its creator and his grandfather's groundbreaking studies.

Though Sigmund Freud has largely been discredited today, in an age when there is a pill for every human malady, Lucien Freud's work makes a very valid statement in its almost frightening, painterly realism. Lucien Freud was born in 1922 and along with British artists such as Francis Bacon (no relation to sir Francis), Leon Kossoff, and Frank Auerbach, rose from obscurity to pick up the pieces of English art in the aftermath of destruction following WW II. Early in his career he painted landscapes and still lifes, usually in a tight, surreal manner until the mid-1660s when he discovered the nude figure. There has never been a strong tradition of nude figures in British art. And Freud's nudes would have been out of step with it in any case.  His female figures are not "pretty." In fact the term "nude" is too pretty to describe them. They are unabashedly naked and certainly not attractive in the traditional context of French, Spanish, or Italian painting.

Standing by the Rags, 1988-89, Lucien Freud
His 1989 painting, Standing by the Rags is a prime example. The woman is fiftish, somewhat overweight, and sags in all the wrong places. She leans tiredly against an enormous pile of what appears to be dirty laundry, though in this case Freud's handling of the many shades of whites, tans, and grays are the most intriguing, not to mention attractive part of the painting. The flesh tones have the same range, from ruddy in the figures lower extremities to cold and bluish in her midsection. Her head seems a bit small her feet almost grotesquely large. The (Sigmund) Freudian sexual overtones are everywhere with suggestions of angels wings amongst the rags near her shoulders and male and female sexual elements discernible elsewhere amongst the rags. It's a painted Rorschach test as endlessly fascinating as it is repulsive. One has to wonder what Lucien's grandfather might have though of his work and the long shadow he cast upon it.

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