Art History Lab

Lucian Freud: Capturing Humanity with Raw Realism

Lucian Freud: The Life and Art of a Great Master

Lucian Freud was one of the most important figurative painters of the twentieth century. Born in Berlin in 1922, he was the grandson of the world-famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud.

Lucian’s father, Ernst Freud, was a successful architect and his mother, Lucie Brasch, was a member of an assimilated German-Jewish family. Lucian Freud’s Family and Heritage

Growing up, Lucian had a privileged upbringing, amidst the intellectual and artistic circles of interwar Berlin.

He was surrounded by prominent writers, artists, and musicians, including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and Arnold Schoenberg. His family’s wealth ensured they were insulated from some of the worst excesses of Nazism, but the rise of Hitler forced the Freuds to flee Germany in 1933.

Emigration to London and Education

The Freuds settled in London, where Lucian attended the Central School of Art. He later studied at Cedric Morris’s East Anglican School of Painting and Drawing, where he honed his skills in figurative drawing and watercolors.

In 1942, he was drafted into the Merchant Navy, serving as a deckhand until 1943. He then returned to London for a brief period before joining the British Army Medical Corps in 1944.

After the war, he studied at Goldsmith’s College and exhibited his work at the Lefevre Gallery.

Foundation Years (1939-1944) and Early Style

In the early years of his career, Freud experimented with Surrealism and Expressionism. His early paintings, such as ‘The Painter’s Room’ (1944), show the influence of these movements, with their distorted perspectives and vivid colors.

Freud also began to develop his own style, which would later be known as the School of London. This style was characterized by a focus on the human form, an attention to detail, and a rejection of both abstraction and idealism.

Mature Style (1950-2011)

From the 1950s onwards, Freud’s style began to mature. His paintings became more somber and introspective, and he began to use hog-haired brushes and Kremnitz white, which allowed him to create a much richer and more textured surface.

Freud’s mature style is characterized by its intense realism and the way it captures the psychological complexities of his subjects. His paintings, such as ‘Reflection with Two Children’ (1965), ‘Large Interior W11 (after Watteau)’ (1981), and ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’ (1995), are all masterpieces of figurative art.


In conclusion, Lucian Freud was one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. His life and work were shaped by his family’s history and his own experiences of war, emigration, and artistic experimentation.

Through his art, he was able to capture the human form with a level of realism and psychological depth rarely seen before. Lucian Freud’s legacy is one of artistic excellence and a commitment to the power of representation.

Lucian Freud was a fascinating figure in the world of art, and there are many aspects of his life and work that are worth exploring in more detail.

Friendship with Francis Bacon

One of the most interesting facts about Lucian Freud is his friendship with the artist Francis Bacon. The two were close for many years, with Freud even posing for a portrait by Bacon in 1952.

In 1954, the artists’ work was exhibited together in the British Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Despite their close relationship, however, the two artists had very different styles.

While Freud was known for his delicate, precise handling of the human figure, Bacon’s work was much more brutal and expressionistic.

Controversial Ownership Denial and Success in the Art Market

Lucian Freud’s work has been the subject of many controversies over the years. Perhaps the most notable of these was the ownership dispute over his painting ‘Standing Male Nude.’ In 2003, the painting was sold at Christie’s auction for a record-breaking price of 3.1 million.

However, the man depicted in the painting, Billy Connolly, denied that he had ever given permission for his likeness to be used. The case eventually went to court, where it was ruled that Connolly did not hold the copyright to his own image, and the painting was allowed to remain in private hands.

Yet, despite these controversies, Freud’s work remains incredibly popular in the art market. Several of his paintings have sold for extremely high prices at auction, including ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,’ which sold for 17.2 million in 2008.

Contribution to the Portraiture Genre

One of Lucian Freud’s most significant contributions to the world of art was his work in the portraiture genre. Freud’s portraits are known for their rawness and honesty, capturing the essence of his subjects with a remarkable level of precision.

He was able to achieve this level of realism through his careful observation and analysis of the human form, and his willingness to spend long periods of time studying his subjects. Freud’s portraits are not just technically impressive, however.

They also have a deep emotional power, revealing the psychological complexities of his subjects and their inner lives. In this way, Freud’s contribution to the portraiture genre goes far beyond mere representation.

He was able to capture something essential about what it means to be human, and in doing so, he created a body of work that is both beautiful and deeply moving.

Influence and Recognition

Lucian Freud’s influence on contemporary art is difficult to overstate. His work has inspired countless artists, both in terms of technique and subject matter.

His example has encouraged many artists to explore the potential of realism and figurative art, even in an age dominated by abstraction and conceptualism. Freud’s influence is also reflected in the level of recognition that his work has received.

In 2012, the National Portrait Gallery in London hosted the largest retrospective exhibition of Freud’s work to date, featuring over 100 paintings and works on paper. The exhibition was hugely successful, attracting over 300,000 visitors and cementing Freud’s place as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century.

In addition to exhibitions, there have been many books and monographs published about Lucian Freud’s work, examining his life, his artistic process, and his contribution to the art world. Together, these works help to illuminate the countless ways in which Freud’s work has left its mark on the world of art and culture.

Lucian Freud was an incredibly prolific artist, producing countless paintings over the course of his long and illustrious career. While many of these paintings are deserving of recognition, there are a few that stand out as his most important works.

“Girl with a White Dog” (1950-1951)

“Girl with a White Dog” is perhaps one of Lucian Freud’s most beloved paintings. The subject of the painting is his former lover, Kitty Garman, whom he met in the early 1940s.

The painting was created during a turbulent time in their relationship, just prior to their breakup. It features Garman sitting on a bed, holding a small white dog in her lap.

The painting is notable for its surrealistic elements, particularly in the way that the dog’s head is turned backwards, suggesting that it is looking back into the past. The painting is also notable for its use of warm, flat colors, which give the work a sense of intimacy and softness.

Garman’s distant gaze and the way that she seems lost in thought has captivated viewers for decades, making this painting one of Freud’s most enduring masterpieces. “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995)

“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” is one of Lucian Freud’s most successful paintings in terms of auction prices.

It was sold for 17.2 million in 2008, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold by a living artist. The painting depicts Sue Tilley, a friend of Freud’s who sat for him on multiple occasions.

The painting is notable for its rawness and vulnerability, capturing Tilley in a moment of rest and relaxation, while also revealing the complexities of her body and the weight of her form. Freud’s meticulous attention to detail is also evident in the painting, with every wrinkle, fold, and crease of Tilley’s body rendered with an almost obsessive level of precision.

The result is a painting that is both technically masterful and emotionally powerful, a testament to Freud’s ability to capture the human form with a level of realism and depth that few other artists have ever achieved. “The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years: 1922-1968” (2019)

If you are interested in learning more about the life and work of Lucian Freud, “The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years: 1922-1968” by William Feaver is an excellent place to start.

This biography covers the first half of Freud’s life, from his birth in 1922 to the late 1960s, when he was already an established artist. It is based on extensive research and conversations with Freud himself, making it an incredibly rich and detailed account of his early years.

The book also includes many illustrations of Freud’s work from this period, giving readers a chance to see firsthand how his style and technique evolved over time. Feaver’s writing is engaging and informative, making this biography an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the world of art.

“Lucian Freud” (2007)

For a more comprehensive look at Lucian Freud’s work, “Lucian Freud” by William Feaver and David Dawson is an excellent choice. This book features over 400 reproductions of Freud’s paintings, drawings, and etchings, offering readers a chance to see the full scope of his artistic output.

The book is arranged thematically, with chapters devoted to Freud’s early work, his portraits, his nudes, and his landscapes, among other subjects. Each section includes insightful commentary by Feaver and Dawson, providing readers with a deep understanding of Freud’s style, technique, and themes.

The book is a must-have for anyone interested in the art of Lucian Freud, and it offers a stunning visual experience that is sure to delight and inspire. Lucian Freud, one of the most important figurative painters of the twentieth century, captivated audiences with his raw and honest depictions of the human form.

His background, marked by his family’s emigration from Germany to London, and his artistic influences shaped his unique style. Freud’s friendship with Francis Bacon and his controversial ownership denial added to his intriguing life story.

His most important paintings, such as “Girl with a White Dog” and “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” showcase his mastery of capturing emotion and rendering meticulous detail. Through his contributions to the portraiture genre and his lasting influence, Freud’s legacy remains powerful.

Recommended books, like “The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years: 1922-1968” and “Lucian Freud,” offer further insight into his life and work. Lucian Freud has left an indelible mark on the art world, and his ability to capture the essence of being human continues to intrigue and inspire audiences today.

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