Celebrated German-British artist Lucian Freud has died aged 88 in his London home.
Lauded for his distinctive painting style, Freud’s first work, a self-portrait, was published at the age of 17 in an avant-garde art magazine. For all his explorations within painting, his hyper-real, almost existentialist portraits have always retained an obtrusive element that strips his often nude subjects to depict something decisively vulnerable.
Whilst initially scorned for his narrow focus on portrait at a time when art was embracing non-traditional forms, his celebrity truly took off in 1987 when art critic Robert Hughes dubbed him “the greatest living realist painter”. Nonetheless, the raw nature and stark sexuality that imbued his pieces left the artist open to much controversy, particularly in his naked portrait of a pregnant Kate Moss. As Freud himself said “’I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be”.
His exposure of the ugliness of humanity in such hauntingly beautiful paintings has made him one of the most expensive artists of our time. His painting ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’, sold for $33.6m, the highest any painting by a living artist has ever sold.
Freud’s death was announced by his close friend, art dealer William Acquavella, who said he would mourn Freud “as one of the great painters of the twentieth century.”
“As the foremost figurative artist of his generation he imbued both portraiture and landscape with profound insight, drama and energy” he added.
“In company he was exciting, humble, warm and witty. He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world.”
A known womaniser, Freud was married, and subsequently divorced, twice and has fathered 13 acknowledged children. Yet it was this destructive nature and emotional charge that elevated his portraits to the heights of Titian and Rembrandt, getting beneath his models’ skin in every cold and compelling brushstroke.
Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate art gallery which hosted the infamous sellout Freud exhibition in 2002 , also spoke of Freud’s legacy within the art world: “The vitality of his nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th century art.
“His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.”
Artists and voyeurs alike will mourn a man who, in all his flaws and artistic temperament, was undoubtedly one of the greatest painters of our time, and a colossus of the art world. As art critic Jackie Wullschlager said of Freud, he was “an unrivalled interpreter of human flesh and the human psyche in paint”. RIP.