Ok let’s start with the biographical bit, Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to the UK in 1933 to escape Nazi Germany. In the late 1940’s he chose to make portraiture his primary focus of practice.
Freud had two obsessions painting and sex. Author John Richardson once remarked ‘ He turns sex into art and art into sex- there is no differentiation; the two aspects of his senses came together in the act of painting”. Because Freud was renowned for his works of startling intensity, and for frank, often disquieting nudes, he often required his models to sustain uncomfortable poses for long periods of time. Freud stated that it was only fair that he should subject himself to the same process. The exhibition shows his work from his early years, including his painting Man with a Feather (self portrait 1943) It was exhibited in the Lefevre Gallery in London in 1944.
The first portraits are in pencil and or ink. Encouraged by his mother, Freud had drawn obsessively since childhood. His approach to painting at this time was marked by a preoccupation with line, combining expressive force with a quality of draughtsmanship that led the critic Herbert Read to describe him as the ‘Ingres of Existentialism”
From around the mid 1950’s Freud turned his attention away from drawing to painting, and for a period of about seven years stopped drawing altogether. In order to free up his painting he stopped painting sitting down and from then on painted standing up. His last painting made sitting down is Hotel Bedroom 1954 and is a double portrait of himself and his second wife Lady Caroline Blackwood.
Between the 1950’s and the mid 1960’s Freud’s painting gradually freed up. In 1961 he took up using watercolours, replacing the linearity of pen and pencil with loose painterly washes. From the mid 1960’s Freud used Mirrors to help him paint his own likeness. He didn’t use photographs and only kept mirrors in his studio not in the rest of his house. He liked the way that a mirror could suggest a new and unexpected angle or perspective. Freud said of himself ‘ My work is purely autobiographical. It’s about myself and my surroundings…I work from the people that interest me and that I care about in rooms that i live in and know.”
Throughout his career Freud held a succession of London Studios, in Holland Park, Paddington and Notting Hill. They provided the stage for his encounters with sitters- each an intimate environment that was erotically charged. A series of exhibitions in the late 1980’s and 1990’s cemented Freud’s reputation internationally. From then on he held an exhibition every year for the rest of his life. He continued to paint self-portraits that display his self- possession and extraordinary mastery of colour, form, light and shade.
Freud’s late self-portraits become increasingly built up with thick layers of paint sometimes smoothed, at others scratched as though responding to the changes in his physical appearance. He almost disappears into the surface. There is a narrowing of the space between the painter and his work. This is a very popular exciting exhibition and you will need to book to see it.
This small but packed exhibition is on from 27th October 2019 until 26th January 2020 at the Royal Academy of Arts London
Review: Juliet Bawden