Lucian Michael Freud (8 December 1922 – 20 July 2011) was a German-born British painter. Known chiefly for his thickly impastoed portrait and figure paintings, he was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time. His works are noted for their psychological penetration and their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.
Born in Berlin, Freud was the son of a German Jewish mother, Lucie (nee Brasch), and an Austrian Jewish father, Ernst L. Freud, an architect. He was a grandson of Sigmund Freud, and elder brother of the broadcaster, writer and politician Clement Freud (thus uncle of Emma and Matthew Freud) and the younger brother of Stephan Gabriel Freud.
He moved with his family to St John's Wood, London, in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism. He became a British subject in 1939, having attended Dartington Hall School in Totnes, Devon, and later Bryanston School, for a year before being expelled due to disruptive behaviour.
Freud briefly studied at the Central School of Art in London, and from 1939 to 1942 with greater success at Cedric Morris' East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham, relocated in 1940 to Benton End, a house near Hadleigh, Suffolk. He also attended Goldsmiths' College, part of the University of London, in 1942–43. He served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941 before being invalided out of service in 1942.
In 1943, the poet and editor Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu commissioned the young artist to illustrate a book of poems by Nicholas Moore entitled The Glass Tower. It was published the following year by Editions Poetry London and comprised, among other drawings, a stuffed zebra and a palm tree. Both subjects reappeared in The Painter's Room on display at Freud's first solo exhibition in 1944 at the Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery. In the summer of 1946, he travelled to Paris before continuing to Greece for several months to visit John Craxton. In the early fifties he was a frequent visitor to Dublin where he would share Patrick Swift's studio. In late 1952, Freud and Lady Caroline Blackwood eloped to Paris where they married in 1953. He otherwise lived and worked in London for the rest of his life.
Freud was part of a group of figurative artists that American artist Ronald Kitaj later named "The School of London". This was more a loose collection of individual artists who knew each other, some intimately, and were working in London at the same time in the figurative style (but during the boom years of abstract painting). The group was led by figures such as Francis Bacon and Freud, and included Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, Leon Kossoff, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde, Reginald Gray and Kitaj himself. He was a visiting tutor at the Slade School of Fine Art of University College London from 1949 to 1954.
Freud's early paintings, which are mostly very small, are often associated with German Expressionism (an influence he tended to deny) and Surrealism in depicting people, plants and animals in unusual juxtapositions. Some very early works anticipate the varied flesh tones of his mature style, for example Cedric Morris (1940, National Museum of Wales), but after the end of the war he developed a thinly painted very precise linear style with muted colours, best known in his self-portrait Man with Thistle (1946, Tate) and a series of large-eyed portraits of his first wife, Kitty Garman, such as Girl with a Kitten (1947, Tate). These were painted with tiny sable brushes and evoked Early Netherlandish painting.
From the 1950s, he began to work in portraiture, often nudes (though his first full length nude was not painted until 1966), to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, and by the middle of the decade developed a much more free style using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto. Girl with a white dog, 1951–1952, (Tate) is an example of a transitional work in this process, sharing many characteristics with paintings before and after it, with relatively tight brushwork and a middling size and viewpoint. With this technique, he would often clean his brush after each stroke when painting flesh, so that the colour remained constantly variable. He also started to paint standing up, which continued until old age, when he switched to a high chair. The colours of non-flesh areas in these paintings are typically muted, while the flesh becomes increasingly highly and variably coloured. By about 1960, Freud had established the style that he would use, with some changes, for the rest of his career. The portraits in the new style often used an over life-size scale from the start, but were mostly relatively small heads or half-lengths. Later portraits were often very much larger, and appealed to galleries and collectors. In his late career he often followed a portrait by producing an etching of the subject in a different pose, drawing directly onto the plate, with the sitter in his view.
"I paint people," Freud said, "not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be." Freud painted fellow artists, including Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon. He produced a series of portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery, and also painted Henrietta Moraes, a muse to many Soho artists. A series of huge nude portraits from the mid-1990s depicted the very large Sue Tilley, or "Big Sue", some using her job title of "Benefits Supervisor" in the title of the painting, as in his 1995 portrait Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which in May 2008 was sold by Christie's in New York for $33.6 million, setting a world record auction price for a living artist.
Freud's most consistent model in his later years was his studio assistant and friend David Dawson, the subject of his final, unfinished work. Towards the end of his life he did a nude portrait of model Kate Moss. Freud was one of the best known British artists working in a representational style, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989.
In 1996, Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal mounted a major exhibition of 27 paintings and thirteen etchings, covering the whole period of Freud's working life to date. The following year the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art presented "Lucian Freud: Early Works". The exhibition comprised around 30 drawings and paintings done between 1940 and 1945. This was followed by a large retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002. During a period from May 2000 to December 2001, Freud painted Queen Elizabeth II. There was criticism of this portrayal of the Queen in some sections of the British media. The highest selling tabloid newspaper, The Sun, was particularly condemnatory, describing the portrait as "a travesty". In 2005, a retrospective of Freud's work was held at the Museo Correr in Venice scheduled to coincide with the Biennale. In late 2007, a collection of Freud's etchings titled "Lucian Freud: The Painter's Etchings" went on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
Freud died in London on 20 July 2011 and on 27 July was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Archbishop Rowan Williams officiated at the private funeral.