British painter Lucian Freud, known for his psychologically charged portrait paintings and considered one of the pre-eminent British artists of his time, has died at age 88 at his home in London. Actually born in Berlin, Freud was the son of Ernst Ludwig Freud, an architect of Austrian Jewish descent, and Lucie née Brash, heiress to a timber fortune, as well as the grandson of Sigmund Freud.
After showing little academic promise, Freud briefly attended several art schools and did a short stint in the merchant navy. From there, Freud fully embraced the bohemian lifestyle, often setting up his studio in squalid neighborhoods. Freud met and formed a loosely allied group of artists all working in a figurative style (which included Francis Bacon) at a time when abstract painting was the dominant trend. Already emerging as an important figure in the London art world, in the immediate post-war years Freud created a series of portraits that established his reputation as an influential presence in figurative art.
Freud’s subjects were often the people in his life, which he painted using a muted palette and textured paint application. The “sitter” is most always the central focus of his work, sometimes sprawled naked on the floor or on a bed, though Freud would often include an animal juxtaposed alongside these figures. Freud was apt to spend a great deal of time with his subjects, and demanded the model’s presence even while working on auxiliary elements of a composition. A nude completed in 2007 reportedly required sixteen months of work, with the model posing for him all but four evenings during that time. Freud’s paintings are a combination of richly worked layers of pigment, as well as months of intense observation.
Freud remained deeply unfashionable in the United States for many decades, but in 1987 the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC exhibited his work in a show that no New York museum would take. Then, the art critic Robert Hughes proclaimed Freud “the greatest living realist painter,” and a Freud following soon developed. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.