How Would it Be Like to Pose for Lucian Freud?

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A few weeks ago I was invited by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum to a press release about the new Phaidon book. It’s a compilation of the work of one of the most famous portraitists of the twentieth century: Lucian Freud. An example of how painting, carefully reproduced, makes the book format a work of art in itself.

David Dawson, Freud’s assistant, model, and friend, who was portrayed in eight occasions by him, told us about how he was, and how it was like to pose for him.

Pink Skin. Heavy Muscle Mass, Exposed Meat, Absent Because of Exhaustion, in a Silent Tension

He painted only those closest to him: wives and mistresses, friends and relatives, and himself. In both the portraits of his models and his self-portraits, we can see hints of his personality: rigorous, severe, firm, and honest. He painted women of such beauty as Kate Moss and Jerry Hall with such rawness that there is no trace left of their attractiveness. Maybe the psychic intensity of his portraits and the long posing sessions of his models can be inevitably correlated with the psychoanalytic practice of his grandfather, Sigmund Freud.

“He used to paint by day and by night, two portraits at the same time. One in the day, from eight in the morning up until twelve thirty or one of the afternoon; he then rested for the rest of the afternoon; then, another session in the night, from six to midnight. Always like this, one by day, one by night, to capture different lights and shadows. He could be working on one of this portraits up to twelve months; he liked to see the person being portrayed going through different emotions. And there wasn’t any guarantee that he would approve of his own work; he might even destroy the portrait; in fact, until at least eight or night months of work had passed there was no way of knowing everything would end well, that the portrait would reach a safe harbor,” Dawson told us. He also told us that Freud’s obsession for painting and keeping to his routine was such that he once came to Madrid to see his favourite painting, Las Meninas, by Velázquez, for which he took a plane in the morning and another one in the afternoon so he could get back to London for his night session of painting.

Expressionist Painter of Flesh and Skin

His expressive paintbrushes are reminiscent of the work of Egon Schiele, and both the angled perspective of his work, and the inanimate objects portrayed in his painting have echoes of Vincent Van Gogh. Freud was a member of the School of London, a group of artists dedicated to the figurative realism. He was considered somewhat reactionary because he avoided the vanguard trends of the time: conceptual art, minimalism, and pop art. Compared to his contemporaries, Francis Bacon or David Hockney, to name a few, Freud is stylistically conventional. The themes of his paintings, nevertheless, were anything but. To him, what matters is the emotion, intuition, and the capacity to convey them in his work. Through the flesh and skin exposed in his paintings, Lucian Freud reflects the psyche of his models. “His passion for nudes came from him thinking that, in that way, he could better express the individuality of the person he was portraying, that he could better reflect who that person was. What interested him was the individuality of each person, each body,” Dawson told us.

“What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.” L.F.

And that is just what Lucian Freud accomplishes. As well as in the book by Phaidon, we can view his work in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum; in the permanent collection there are four of his paintings: Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait), Large Interior. Paddington, Last Portrait, and Portrait of Baron H. H. Thyssen-Bornemisza. During the book presentation, we were told that there’s an upcoming exhibition of his work in 2020. The last time I visited one of his exhibitions was in Barcelona, back in 2002, when I went to that city just so I could see his work. Freud has something in his way of seeing that traps us while filling us with a feeling of unrest. Could it be that, with his portraits, he shows us both the strength and fragility of the human existence at the same time?

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Music: Dr. Symptosizer

Conceptual Design: Carolina Verd

Location: Il Tavolo Verde

Fashion: pajamas by La Costa del Algodón


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