Review of an art exhibition – Lucian Freud: The painter and his family

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In 1933, 11-year-old Lucian Freud and his family fled Nazi Germany for Britain, Bridget Galton said in the Ham & Raised (London). Five years later, after Hitler’s annexation of Austria, the budding artist’s paternal grandfather, Sigmund, would follow suit, moving to 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead; he died there a little over a year later. Now a museum, the last home of the psychoanalyst is currently hosting an “intimate” exhibition exploring the work of his Lucien through the prism of his childhood and his relationships with members of his family. The exhibition brings together a number of portraits of the artist’s mother, children and other relatives, as well as rich archival material including childhood photographs, letters and drawings. In his journey, the curators touch on many “lesser known aspects” of Freud’s life, from his “love of reading” to his “fascination for horses”.

Don’t expect to find out much about Freud’s inner life, said Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. In the portraits of his family members here, he “strives to be completely objective”: a likeness of his mother Lucia, hung just above Sigmund’s famous consulting couch, focuses as much on her patterns” than on his “flesh furrowed by time”. ”. It’s a great painting, but it tells us little about the adversarial relationship between a doting mother and a resentful son. Indeed, Lucian didn’t seem to think much of his parents’ family, even though he would have loved Sigmund. There’s a “disturbing” 1999 portrait of her son, Ali Boyt, with the focus on the model’s droopy eyelid. It’s only from the caption that we learn that Boyt had “severe drug problems” at the time.

Beyond that, the show ignores the more troubling aspects of Freud’s family relationships: on the one hand, the fact that he left nothing in his will to several of his children is not mentioned; the same goes for his complicated attitude towards sex, surely a priority given the location. Also, some images just aren’t very good: a drawing of Bella, Freud’s daughter, for example, “has no character.” In the end, it’s a missed opportunity.

I disagree, said Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. It’s a ‘small’ exhibit, and some items – like a box of chocolates that the young Lucian decorated with pictures of tropical fish – are mere curiosities. Overall, though, it’s compelling. Placing a towering image of his mother reclining on a bed above his grandfather’s couch is “brilliantly appropriate”; the two men “spent their days staring at people lying down”.

Other highlights include a selection of illustrations for book jackets; an image of a palm tree he drew as a teenager, already showing his “characteristic precision”; and his only known surviving sculpture, a 1937 sculpture of a three-legged horse. This “delightfully domestic” show is “a must” for anyone intrigued by Freud’s “historical life”.

Until 29 January 2023 at the Freud Museum, London NW3 (020-7435 2002, freud.org.uk)

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