Lucian Freud's ghosts laid to rest with Vienna show

Mon Oct 7, 2013 11:22am EDT
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By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA (Reuters) - Lucian Freud did not live to see the first exhibition of his paintings in Vienna, the city his grandfather Sigmund fled in 1938, but he helped plan the retrospective that opens this week.

Freud, considered the greatest British painter of his generation, moved with his family from Berlin to London in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism. Four of his great-aunts were killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

"Vienna was never home for him and it could never be home for him," curator Jasper Sharp said. "I don't want to go so far as to say it was a healing or the closing of a circle for him, but a ghost was somehow laid to rest."

After refusing numerous invitations from German and Austrian galleries for decades, the German-born British figurative artist agreed to the show and helped select the 43 works on display because of his love of the artistic company in which they would be seen.

"He has done this exhibition because of the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum first and foremost," said Sharp, a friend and neighbor from childhood of the Jewish artist who died in 2011 aged 88.

The museum houses the Habsburg royal family's extensive collections of artists including Titian, Velazquez and Rembrandt who inspired Freud, a keen museum-goer who said visiting art galleries was as curative for him as trips to the doctor.

The exhibition spans 70 years of work, from a 1943 wartime self-portrait to his last work, the unfinished "Portrait of the Hound", depicting his assistant David Dawson and his whippet Eli, on which Freud worked until two weeks before his death.

"The one thing you had to learn about sitting - do not look at your watch," said Dawson, who worked with Freud for more than 20 years and whose photographs taken in Freud's studio and home are being shown concurrently in Vienna's Sigmund Freud museum, where the founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked for years.   Continued...

David Dawson, who worked with British painter Lucian Freud at Freud's studio and home for over 20 years, looks at one of his photographs of the artist during an interview with Reuters at the Sigmund Freud museum in Vienna October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader