The master of self-expression

The latest exhibition of Lucien Freud's work includes a self-portrait revealing new psychological depths in his eighth decade, reports Louise Jury
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The Independent Online

With every line and hollow of his eight decades crammed into the tiny and uncompromising canvas, Lucien Freud's latest self-portrait reveals an artist still at the height of his powers.

With every line and hollow of his eight decades crammed into the tiny and uncompromising canvas, Lucien Freud's latest self-portrait reveals an artist still at the height of his powers.

The new work from arguably Britain's greatest painter goes on show at the Wallace Collection in London tomorrow until 18 April. Created in the two years since his major retrospective at Tate Britain, it is the most recent of more than two dozen self- portraits dating back to his teenage years.

William Feaver, his friend and curator, said yesterday: "They mark the 17 - or more - ages of man, rather than seven. If you trace them right back to when he was 15 or 16, the style of each is exactly attuned to the age he was at the time.

"You have funny naive youth, very self-conscious youth, then you get somebody being an agile young man around town to father figure to semi-heroic middle-aged man.

"Now it's getting more and more tantalising and poignant, I think. It's even more personal, even more thinking about himself, rather than looking at himself."

David Dawson, Freud's assistant and model whose own photographs of Freud at work go on display at the National Portrait Gallery for four months from today, said there was a clear intimation of mortality in Freud these days.

"He is aware - though not in a morbid sense - that he's now over 80," Mr Dawson said. "His timing is different. I think he's becoming even more obsessive in painting as much as he can. He's becoming more and more concentrated."

As a consequence of this drive, the planned exhibition of 15 works at the Wallace Collection has turned into 22 paintings plus three or four sketches. Mr Feaver said the display had become a little crowded.

Freud was born in Berlin in 1922, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. When he was 11, he moved to Britain with his family and embarked on a highly lucrative career as a painter. One painting from the 1970s recently sold at auction for more than £2m.

Freud's subjects have included his many lovers, his children, who claimed sitting was the only way to win his attention, and flamboyant figures such as Leigh Bowery and (in the current exhibition) Andrew Parker Bowles, the former husband of Camilla.

Many of his most famous works have been nudes, including the model Jerry Hall when pregnant, although he was 70 before he produced a naked self-portrait.

One work, a portrait of Mr Dawson, Freud's whippet and a plant, which was delivered for the exhibition yesterday, had been completed only at 5.30am the same day.

But his concession to age has been to give up the nightclubs and casinos which were his favoured night-time haunts.

Mr Feaver said you could tell a great deal about his moods and whether he was on the same wavelength as a sitter in his pictures.

"There is no scorn or derision in the paintings. If he finds a person boring, he just rips it up. But you can always tell from his pictures how much he likes the person he paints. He has taken a very straightforward pleasure in his grandchildren in the last few years."

By contrast, Mr Dawson thought Freud now found painting himself particularly taxing. His latest work was painted in two phases, starting two years ago, then left and resumed only two or three months ago.

"It's very tough on him on a psychological level," he said. "It is difficult looking at your reflection as if for the first time at another person."

Asked to compare Freud with other contemporary artists, Mr Feaver said he could not think of a more interesting painter working today. He compared Freud's work now as being like Beethoven's late quartets. Freud, like Beethoven, had learnt to disregard the rules, he said.

"There's this wonderful way all good painters have of being much more summary as they get on. They take risks, they take imaginative jumps," Mr Feaver said.

In the new exhibition, for instance, a painting of a horse takes the previously unknown viewpoint of the animal's rear quarters. And in the latest self-portrait, Mr Feaver said there was an "extraordinary" mark between the eyebrows. "It jumps out and is exactly right, but is discordant."

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