Lucian Freud: giving more life to the living

Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve missed some news, but I didn’t find out until today that painter Lucian Freud died a couple of weeks ago in London at age 88. He died — and all the attendant press coverage appeared — while I was largely out of internet range at a family reunion in Kentucky.

I found out about Freud’s death today, interestingly via artist Betsy Cain, whose brilliant abstractions will be featured in In Situ opening on Saturday, August 6th at the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center here in Savannah.

Freud, of course, was no abstractionist: he may have been the most important figurative painter of the last half-century. He had remarkable fame, wealth, and influence (not to mention being Sigmund’s grandson), but his work always felt grounded in the tactile details of daily life — and the people living it. From Michael Kimmelman’s Painter and Provocateur, Set in His Ways in the NYT after Freud’s death:

He loathed gentility and social convention. To him they smacked of fakery, like the various artistic symbolisms, Surrealism among them, that modern painting had contrived. The real world, stripped bare, already presented unfathomable strangeness and fascination. An artistic life should exhaust itself trying to unpack it.

Difficult and unpredictable in his prime, Lucian was also famously funny, as eulogists are recalling after his death this week at 88. He was incapable of saying or doing anything routine. It occurs to me now how curious this observation might sound, considering that in his art he stuck almost entirely to portraiture, and his life was completely subordinated to unwavering studio routines. He rarely even left London during the last half-century.

Betsy posted this video from The Guardian. It’s a fast 6 minutes that using his famous “Standing by the Rags” as a jumping off point to discuss his work. It’s well worth watching: