lucian freud: strangeness


“For me, the paint is the person.”[1] “I’d like to think that I had in some way caught a scene rather than composed it, so that you never questioned it.” “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me. That would be a pointless lie.” By his own account, Lucian Freud is a painter who reaches after truth and substance. And for many today, the claims he makes hold good. To treat him as “the greatest living realist painter” has now become commonplace. Robert Hughes gave Freud that title in 1987,[2] the point at which he started to acquire an international renown.

For much of the four preceding decades, he had been a somewhat marginal figure on the art scene, even in his own adopted hometown of London. Twenty years onward, however, the world lies at the feet of the still-active octogenarian. It’s not just that his work is deemed to give new force to the age-old equation between the bodies we look at and the marks we make. His persona—that of a loner and a gambler, trailing, in Hughes’s description, a “long and labyrinthine” sexual history—lends itself to the equally popular pairing-off of high artistic achievement with bohemian recklessness.

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