Lucian Freud – The self portraits exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts 

Lucian Freud – The self portraits exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts  

Exhibition dates : 27 October 2019- 26 January 2020 

Lucian Freud can be seen as one of the foremost 20th century portraitists who is known for his figurative style that evolved through his years of practice . He is the grandson of the infamous psychologist Sigmund Freud . While he is not directly influenced by his grandfather , Lucian’s work can be seen to cut back behind people psychologically and create a discomforting examination of of the relationship between between the artist and model : in this case being himself. Born in Berlin in 1922 , Freud being the son of a Jewish architect (Edwin .L Freud ) , Freud moves to the UK with his family to escape Nazi Germany. By the year 1940 he chose to focus primarily on portraiture a for his practice . His development in portraiture transformed his style and practice in art from a style based around surrealism to a figurative style that touches at both abstract ideas and realism . This shift in his work is not subtle but dramatic and the exhibition itself physically demonstrates a visual progression of each phase and evolution his art took.  

The exhibition combines around 56 years of work, dedication and drive in one exclusive space. The exhibition , which is a world first to combine all of his self portraits to be displayed in this way, presents his journey in his practice of art and how unlike any other artist of this degree , relentlessly kept coming back decade after decade to use himself as the model. His teenage years depict himself in a surrealist manner with pencil sketches and drawings and also the occasional oil painting . At this point his style is very clean cut but has a sense of unusual and unsettling depth partly reflected through his use of surrealism. Most of his pieces of this time can be seen to be almost ‘blank’ as the canvas is left white with small areas sketched or marked out . However he contrasts this with large shaded areas to confuse and intrigue the viewer. While his teenage years are purely simplistic and defined or what several writers thought of him at the time to be “linear” – he wanted to change this in response to that idea. His self portraits took a turn in style but kept the same principals that were present before in his surrealism ; keeping the unsettling and discomforting nature that was soon to bloom into what defined his work .From this point onwards his work became more free handed , loose and explored further in paint and rejected the idea of drawing entirely. He focused more on style and the exactitude of observation in his work and rejected the idea of narratives or symbols in his work. Not only did he strictly stick to the traditional self portrait but the exhibition shows he pushed his boundaries by experimenting with mirrors , reflections and shadows which show himself in and unusual compositions which shows his relentless desire to keep bending his capabilities and pushing the normal structure of design. 

 The exhibition being positioned to start from his teenage years to his later years is set up almost in a circular format so that once each different aspect of his growth in style is witnessed , the viewer is back at the start to the teenage years again. This was extremely interesting . Once his growth and development is witnessed , it is at the end end point staring back at Freuds surrealistic ,simple  sketches how much Freud changed and how he broke down barriers between him and himself to achieve an objective breakdown of himself and delve into his figurative style to create a new language that psychologically penetrates. The exhibition itself which displays his own development within his own practice also leaves room to question how any artist can develop and push their own boundaries to grow and opens the idea that noting is permanent but is always changing. 

“People thought and said and wrote that my paintings were linear and defined by my drawing. I’ve never been that affected by writing, but I thought if that’s all true , I must stop” 

Other artists that are associated with Freud are Francis Bacon and Frank Auberach all of whom , like Freud, were figurative painters working against the grain of abstract expressionism and later the conceptual and experimental art. Bacon in particular influenced his work and inspired Freud to change his brushes to change up the style of his paintwork. This channeled his transition in style and can be seen to be the most interesting parts in the exhibition . What makes his work so captivating is that he was ahead of his time when it came to his work and didn’t conform to traditional ideas or techniques and pushed his work in every way possible away from realism but still capturing a likeness among strange unfamiliar lines and forms. One piece in particular that captures this is is “Mans Head “(Self portrait I) 1963 that can be argued to be part of his turning point in his self portraits to break away layers within both his relationship with his art but also himself through maximum concentration observations that lead him to mask like paintings . In particular this piece stood out as the painting almost feels alive with each brush stroke going in particular directions that suggest a feeling that the paint will melt and mould away . His use of heavy and thick amounts of paint build such a strong constraint against his abstract background to continue to break realism and also capture it at the same time. 

The exhibition is not only a chance to witness some of Freuds greatest pieces but a chance to experience a sense of development, growth and transition and how he was able to capture deep rooted emotions and feelings in composition, texture and colour both in his earlier years and his later years. The idea that all of his self portraits are brought together to display against each other allows a unique experience to use the same subject matter moulded differently over his lifespan relentlessly to understand truly his relationship with art but as a whole – his relationship with himself . 

Date visited : 2nd October 2019 

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