An intensely personal portrait of Freud with his daughter, Isobel Boyt, and her child with the reclining Leigh Bowery in the background.
Renowned for his unflinching observations, Lucian Freud is considered one of the greatest figurative artists of the twentieth century. He pushed the boundaries of decorum in terms of classical portraiture and nudes in order to explore his lifelong concern to honestly render the human figure, in what he called his "naked portraits." Freud’s treatment of bodies emphasises the tactile attributes of flesh almost to the point of viscerality. For many years etching was a practice pursued by Lucian Freud in parallel with his painting. From his earliest paintings, his treatment of nudes was unorthodox and frequently viewed as shocking at the time of their making. Freud considers his paintings of nudes to be as much portraits as they refer to the traditional genre of the nude. Rather than glorifying the body, Freud’s ‘realistic’ representation presents it in all the vulnerability of nakedness, emphasising his subject’s humanity.
In his paintings, Freud's layers of impasto jabs of paint create a surprisingly delicate, translucent depiction of flesh, while his etchings employ an economy of line that implies the figure more than it illustrates it. Charismatic but irascible, Freud worked only from sitters that he knew, consistently focusing on translating his direct perceptions. The resulting portraits are redolent with a stark and evocative psychological intensity, underpinned by an unexpected tenderness towards the subject.
The flamboyant performance artist Leigh Bowery (1961-1994) was a favourite model of Freud. He first saw Bowery perform at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London, when he appeared in a variety of colourful and dramatic outfits. The artist became fascinated by this strange figure - the shape of his body, tone of his skin and his monumental presence. Freud preferred to know his models well in order to portray them most effectively. He made several paintings of Bowery over a period of four years, during which time they became friends. It was a relationship of mutual inspiration, as Freud considered his model to be ‘perfectly beautiful’ and Bowery loved to pose for Freud. He explained that, ‘because he is an artist who always works in the figurative idiom he has given me lots of ideas’. Freud’s first painting of him was Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990 (private collection). To accommodate and emphasise Bowery’s enormous scale, it was one of the largest paintings Freud had ever made (2437 x 1830mm). The folds of fat on his torso are rendered with uncompromising honesty.
Craig Hartley, The Etchings of Lucian Freud: A Catalogue Raisonne 1946-1995, Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1995, cat no.42; David Cohen (intro.), Lucian Freud, Etchings from the Paine Webber Art Collection, Yale Centre for British Art, touring exhibition catalogue, 1999, cat no.29, illus b/w p61; and Craig Hartley, Lucian Freud, Etchings 1946-2004, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2004, touring exhibition catalogue, cat no.34.