Lucian Freud, a giant of modern painting, died last week, aged 88.
The death of a painter rarely makes front-page headlines, but Lucian Freud was no ordinary mortal; like the great and the good who passed through his studio, he was larger-than-life — an icon whose past was a colorful mixture of fact and fiction. Some suggest that he fathered as many as 40 illegitimate children, but the number is probably around a dozen. He claimed he accidentally burnt down his school in Dedham with a stray cigarette.
He chose friends wherever he wanted, painted whoever he wanted. He befriended both the royals and the Krays; his friends, lovers and subjects came from all walks of life, from art students to supermodels. He viewed human experience, of the working class and the aristocracy alike, as essentially forlorn, and spiritually if not physically painful. To extract this misery, he would torture his subjects with excruciatingly long sessions (he never worked from photographs) during which his intimidating gaze scrutinized the sitter’s every twitch and inflection.
His work was often controversial, as when he painted Queen Elizabeth II with a six o’clock shadow in 2001 (below). The Times wrote the Queen’s neck “would not disgrace a rugby prop forward”. The Sun called it a “travesty”. Even as his international stature and price of his paintings ascended, and he became “the greatest living painter” on Bacon’s death in 1992, Freud rarely harbored pretensions, especially in his last years. He deplored journalists, but friends were always welcomed to tea and to view his works in progress. His studio was cramped, paint-encrusted, littered with dirty rags, and heated to an uncomfortable degree. There, Freud and his models would strip down to capture the human body in its most anguished and chiseled glory.
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