I was with a painter friend in front of a painting by Lucian Freud, a portrait of a woman, a small canvas, from the early period, and I was struck by the pronounced deformation of the figure, mainly the head. Neither compressed nor expanded; a carelessness expressed almost with childish impertinence. I mentioned it to my friend and he replied laconicly: “he was young; he only knew how to paint that ”.
I don’t think everyone should be like Picasso, who at the age of twenty entered the blue period almost with the hand of Ingres, but I imagine that Freud put some intention in that work and the proof is that the painting is hanging, in the retrospective exhibition of the artist that have just opened at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid. After a while we saw a portrait of another woman, painted many years later, where the flesh already appears, the map of the skin as the subject of her painting. Here she showed a face with great harmony, but with a flattened front: dark hair falling down the sides of her face from an almost flat surface, like water overflowing a plate. I asked: is this also a lack of skill, of knowing how to paint well, or is it how Freud sees her, oppressed, how perhaps he feels her from her perspective? “You see a story in everything”, he answered me.
Freud’s work is much more figurative than Bacon’s, but both approach the human body from the beginning until they cross the flesh when they reach artistic maturity. It is true that Bacon is more expressionist, but no less eloquent: “the smell of human blood can’t get out of my eyes,” he told the critic Franck Maubert, who titled the book of conversations with that phrase.
The images of Freud, bodies stripped of their clothes, flooded by a diffuse winter light, which, with optimism, can be associated with English weather, with the drizzle of London, but which is decidedly the light of a hospital or a morgue. on our meat. More story, my friend would say.
Critic Martin Gayford wrote a book on Freud’s work and artistic process after posing for two hundred and fifty hours, the time it took the painter to paint his portrait. One afternoon, Gayford says, he arrived at the studio nervous, after a day full of setbacks and not much desire to pose. When Freud saw him, he told him: “Today I was thinking of painting the shirt, but I am going to work on your hair; This change of plans is a good sign.” Gayford did not like the decision since he, he says, had his hair standing up, unruly, made a nest. In the finished portrait, reproduced on the cover of his book (Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, Thames & Hudson), one sees an elongated face crowned by a messy head of hair that loses, in an unbalanced way , volume on both sides. Gayford writes that the dark background of the painting was tinged with gray tones around the head and that Freud darkened them, also invading the figure, compressing the skull a bit. He told Freud about it and Freud told him: “The shape of your head looks much better that way.”
After many years of making excuses, finally, in the year 2000, Freud agreed to make a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, imposing a seventy-six session on her to carry out her work. Buckingham intended to settle the matter with two meetings. “I wanted,” Freud declared, “to make some reference to the extraordinary position that she occupies of her, the fact that she is queen.”
The canvas measures 15 cm wide and 23 cm high, perfect for reproducing on a stamp. Critic Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, said that Freud had gone too far: “the queen looks like one of her corgis.” The Times, the newspaper that Elizabeth read, opined that “the expression is from a sovereign who has not suffered a single horrible year, but all of her reign.”
In the tiny painting you can see the face trapped by the frame, with a serious, troubled expression, absent from the viewer and resolved with lines that suggest the marks of senile flesh and the locks of white hair, but the diadem that the queen wears on his head is radically realistic; Freud was in no hurry to dwell on the brilliance in each diamond. In that the seventy-six sessions will have gone.
It is the correlate of the painting. And hit that, my friend will think when reading it.
*Writer and journalist.
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