Lucian Freud

A simple death notice, an excuse to post a few of Freud’s remarkable portraits, a link back to Francis Bacon, a remark on the way William Grimes framed the list of Freud’s survivors in his NYT obit, and a connection to Tom Lehrer’s “Alma”.

Freud — of the Sigmund, Anna, and Clement Freud clan — “was a Bohemian of the old school”, as Grimes carefully puts it, and lived recklessly while transforming portraiture and deeply unsettling critics by the way he stripped bare the social facade of his subjects, up to and including the Queen of England (who does, however, get to keep her crown and her clothes). Grimes:

Mr. Freud remained deeply unfashionable in the United States for many decades, but in 1987 the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington exhibited his work in a show that no New York museum would take on. This was a watershed event. [critic Robert] Hughes proclaimed him “the greatest living realist painter,” and a Freud cult soon developed. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.

The QE2 portrait:

And an unsparing self-portrait:

Grimes writes that

A decisive influence was Francis Bacon, a fellow artist at the 1954 Venice Biennale and the subject of one of his most famous works, a head painted in oil on copper in 1952. Bacon’s free, daring brushwork led Mr. Freud to abandon the linear, thinly painted portraits of the 1940s and move toward the brushy, searching portrait style of his mature work, with its severely muted palette of browns and yellows.

The Bacon portrait:

I’ve alluded to Bacon in passing, because of the fictobiographical movie Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998), in which Daniel Craig plays Bacon’s lover, but now he figures in Freud’s story. Here’s one of Bacon’s (many) self-portraits:

Both men led unorthodox lives, but at opposite ends of the sexuality scale. Freud was married (and divorced) twice — to Kitty Garman, daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, and to Lady Caroline Blackwood — but the real interest comes in trying to describe his survivors. As Grimes tells it, delicately:

He is survived by many children from his first marriage and from a series of romantic relationships.

(Presumably, somewhere someone is cataloguing these many children. And, by this time, grandchildren, if not great-grandchildren. Freud was 88 when he died, and he seems to have started horn-dogging early in his life.)

I was reminded of another memorable obituary, for Alma (Schindler) Mahler Gropius Werfel: only three husbands, all notable artistic figures, and (if I’ve reckoned correctly) four children, but also a number of notable lovers, so that she’s sometimes described as the greatest femme fatale of the 20th century (she was also a serious composer herself, I should point out), and was immortalized in song by Tom Lehrer in 1965, in “Alma” from That Was the Year That Was. Versions are available all over the internet, but here’s the priceless intro:

Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe, and, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which was what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry.

Go and listen to it in Lehrer’s voice, if only for his delivery of “juiciest, spiciest, raciest”.

(Caroline Blackwood — more properly Lady Caroline Maureen Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood — had three artistic husbands herself. From the Wikipedia entry:

A well-known figure in the literary world through her journalism and her novels, Caroline Blackwood was equally well-known for her high-profile marriages, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, who described her as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers”. Her novels are known for their wit and intelligence, and one in particular is scathingly autobiographical in describing her unhappy childhood [in the Anglo-Irish gentry].)

One Response to “Lucian Freud”

  1. Chris Says:

    According to the Grauniad, there are thirteen known children of Lucian Freud, and more may come out of the woodwork. His estate is estimated to be roughly £125 million, which means that after tax each child will get around £5 million.

    He was notoriously stingy about giving interviews, but there was an article there contributed by a woman who had managed to get some face time with him, but it turns out he may have had an ulterior motive.

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