Tate Liverpool is showing a collection of Lucian Freud’s work throughout the seven decades of his working life in the Real Lives exhibition.
Lucian Freud was a German-born artist who lived between 1922-2011 and has been described as one of the leading figurative painters of the twentieth century. He explored portraiture in-depth and painted from life getting his models to pose in the studio for him. Some of the models sat for him for months meaning he developed a very intense relationship with them. He also painted self-portraits with the same intensity.
Freud started by painting himself and his neighbours in the post-war period. You can already see the high attention to detail in his paintings. In Man with a Thistle, paint was in short supply after the war and so he used it sparingly, reportingly mixing it with household paints to make it go further.
Out of all the portraits on show, this is one that resonated with me. It is an artist starting out on their journey and somehow you feel that in the painting. By bringing the thistle in detracts from the figure slightly and I think this shows some of Freud’s own insecurities. He doesn’t want to be the star of the painting, it is almost a painting of a thistle that happens to have a man in the background.
When Freud starts painting other people like Charlie Lumley, Kitty Garman, Bella Freud, Kai Boyt, Lucie Freud and Celia Paul the person becomes the star, unlike the earlier self-portrait. Freud seems much more at ease painting other people.
What struck me about the girl with the white dog, in particular, is the level of detail. When you look closely at the dressing gown cord, you see how intensely he looked whilst painting. The textures he has created with the fabrics too makes them come alive. So even though the colours are still very muted, the painting has vibrance.
Freud often turned his attention to plants during periods of difficulty with relationships. My favourite piece in the whole exhibition is Two Plants. I was drawn to it as perhaps I resonate as I often struggle with people and turn to nature and plants for comfort. Like his portraits, the amount of detail is incredible and it must have been a very meditative experience painting all the individual leaves.