“I want the paint to feel like flesh,” Freud once said. The effect isn’t cruel, in a point-and-gasp kind of way, like those television ‘shock docs’ that encourage us to mock the obese. Instead we are shown a sympathetic figure with a remarkably palpable presence, flinging back her head as though lost in ecstasy – or, perhaps, tranquillity.
Ultimately, of course, there is nothing ‘ugly’ about Freud’s portraits of Big Sue: anyone who argues otherwise is seeing them through the prism of their own prejudice rather than looking at their actual effect. Back in the ’90s, when they were painted, they may have appeared surprising as a celebration of what was then (and is still) an unconventional type of beauty.
But seen in the wider context of art history, suddenly they don’t seem so radical after all. Freud understood that beauty is an artificial and fluid concept constructed by different societies in different ways.
One of the most well-known and influential painters of the 20th century. Born into a dynasty of era-shaping intellectuals such as Sigmund and Anna, you could make the assumption that Lucian Freud was always destined for some kind of greatness.
His expressionist style of portraiture is instantly recognizable, and over time he became a kind of living legend as he continued to paint and stage groundbreaking exhibitions right up to the end of his long life. In spite of his fame, he remained an intensely private figure, shrouded in considerable mystery. Freud was very private and almost never spoke to the press.
“I never think about technique in anything, I think it holds you up," he said an interview in 1984. Freud had many relationships in his life, and is rumored to have fathered up to 40 children. Freud, along with his contemporaries in “The London School" like Francis Bacon
and Frank Auerbach
, put making work ahead of everything else in his life. In their early days, supposedly the group of friends made so little money from their art that they used to argue vehemently over who would pay for dinner every time they went out. He and his contemporaries Auerbach and Bacon changed the face of British painting forever.