the contemporary old master


He haunted the National Gallery at night, hawk-like and surprisingly slight, with his heavy, unlaced boots and knotted scarves. A warder used to say that Freud was coming to be with his people, the family of old masters. But I remember him at Tate Modern as well, darting back and forth between Matisse and Picasso in that famous stand-off show in 2002, the rest of us wondering which way he would jump. It turns out he thought Picasso emotionally dishonest and Matisse infinitely greater because he painted the life of forms, which, he told the writer Martin Gayford, “is what art is all about”. Lucian Freud was frequently described as a contemporary old master, a Rembrandt for our times. But his work was in fact a radical breach of tradition. He painted people, but not quite (or not often) portraits. He painted from the life, but his life paintings were clearly not moments in the lives of those he painted – models, magnates, office workers, whippets, his many lovers, his many daughters – so much as scenes of their physical presence in his studio.

more from Laura Cumming at The Guardian here.