Lucian Freud, the man who revitalised the fine art of portraits, dies

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Lucian Freud, sometimes called Britain's greatest living painter, relinquished that title yesterday with his death at the age of 88. But it is likely he will continue to be known as one of the finest artists of any age.

The grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and brother of late comedian, Clement, he died at his home in London after a short illness.

Such was the profound and divisive influence of his highly textural depictions of lumpy flesh, even in his advanced years he single-handedly ensured that portraiture could never be accused of being an obsolete, conservative or dying art.

His realist work was thought by some to be too disturbing to be enjoyed. But his pictures became instantly recognisable even to those who rarely step into an art gallery.

His style was perhaps best epitomised by Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, a nude portrait of an obese civil servant lying on a sofa. Its sale at Christie's in New York in 2008 to Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, set a world record for the highest fee paid for the work of a living artist.

The picture was dubbed Big Sue in tribute to Freud's model, Sue Tilley, who was quick to correct anyone who called it "Fat Sue".

"The painting took nine months, but that was about two or three days a week," she told the BBC shortly before the painting's sale.

"When I started, I got £20 a day. I don't mind though. The best thing was I got lovely lunches. I got taken to the River Café most weekends. It was worth it for that."

The painting was unflattering to say the least, but then Freud was not one to hold back in self-portraits either, emphasising wrinkles and layers of fat to just the same extent as his predecessors of centuries past attempted to gloss over them. "I want paint to work as flesh, my portraits to be of the people, not like them," he once said.

"As far as I am concerned, the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does."

It was the critical reaction to the unveiling of his portrait of the Queen in 2001 that really secured his position in art's pantheon.

The then head of the National Portrait Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith, described it as "thought provoking and psychologically penetrating". Others suggested he should be sent to the Tower of London for treason. Among his other models were Kate Moss and Jerry Hall, who posed naked for Freud when she was eight months pregnant.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate galleries, said: "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 in comparison with the great figurative painters of any period."

Freud was born in Germany in 1922 but came to England in 1933 when his family fled the Nazis. He enlisted with the merchant navy during the Second World War, but was swiftly discharged after a serious bout of tonsillitis.

After the war it was a trio of paintings of his first wife Kitty Garman that established his career, though their divorce was not thought to have been caused by his masterful and uncompromising eye for the unaesthetically pleasing.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen