Tuesday, 7 February 2012


WHAT is immediately striking on seeing this large group of Freud's works at the National Portrait Gallery  is the diminishing colour range.  Freud was famed for using very few hues, mainly greys, browns, yellows and dusky pink and as the chronology progresses this pastel tone becomes the linking feature whereby the pictures speak to each other, as they say, binding in even portraits like those of Martin Gayford and David Hockney that contain blues and reds.
The second arresting aspect is the paint surface, with thick brushstrokes and concentrated bobbles of oil on certain areas that suggest a move in the direction of literal modelling.  The effect is to force attention on the materials and technique and curiously away from the subject matter of sprawling naked flesh, obese or skinny or canine as the case may be.

Many people regard Freud as a cruel, even sadistic, artist, intent on rendering his subjects and sitters as ugly as possible, but the evidence here is that his concerns first and last were with the struggle to capture visual effects on canvas, using unrelenting observation and slow accretions of oil paint to conjure the illusion of volume.  I wonder if he ever contemplated sculpture - there's something akin to the manipulation of clay in the late works. 


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