The Casual Optimist

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Julian Barnes on Lucian Freud

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Julian Barnes reviews two recent books about the painter Lucian Freud — Man with a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford and Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig — for The London Review of Books:

Freud was always a painter of the Great Indoors. Even his horses are painted at home in their stables; and though he curated a great Constable show in Paris in 2003, the greenery he depicted himself lived either in pots or was visible from a studio window. His subject matter was ‘entirely autobiographical’. Verdi once said that ‘to copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better.’ Freud didn’t invent, nor did he do allegory; he was never generalising or generic; he painted the here and now. He thought of himself as a biologist – just as he thought of his grandfather Sigmund as an eminent zoologist, rather than a psychoanalyst. He disliked ‘art that looks too much like art’, paintings which were suave, or which ‘rhymed’, or sought to flatter either the subject or the viewer, or displayed ‘false feeling’. He ‘never wanted beautiful colours’ in his work, and cultivated an ‘aggressive anti-sentimentality’. When there is more than one figure in a picture, each is separate, isolated: whether one is reading Flaubert and the other is breastfeeding, or whether both are naked on a bed together. There is only contiguity, never interaction.

An interesting painter, but not a pleasant man, unfortunately.

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One Comment

  1. I knew him since I was a small child and he was wonderful. It was impossible not to love him.

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