LONDON (Reuters) - British figurative painter Lucian Freud, whose uncompromising, fleshy portraits made him one of the world’s most revered and coveted artists, has died aged 88.
His long-time New York art dealer William Acquavella said the grandson of Sigmund Freud had died at his home in London on Wednesday night after an unspecified illness.
“My family and I mourn Lucian Freud not only as one of the great painters of the 20th century but also as a very dear friend,” the dealer said in a statement.
“As the foremost figurative artist of his generation he imbued both portraiture and landscape with profound insight, drama and energy.
“In company he was exciting, humble, warm and witty. He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world.”
Whatever he thought of the art world, and the celebrity status that often comes with it, Freud was very much its darling toward the end of his life.
His “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” a 1995 portrait of a obese woman asleep in the nude on a sofa, fetched $33.6 million at Christie’s in 2008, an auction record for a living artist.
The buyer was widely reported to be Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Freud tended to paint people he knew — family, friends and fellow artists, but was also famously commissioned to depict Queen Elizabeth in 2001.
The resulting portrait, an unflattering portrayal of a severe-looking monarch, divided opinion, with Arthur Edwards, photographer for the Sun tabloid, saying: “They should hang it in the kharzi (toilet).”
Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 to a well-off German family who fled the Nazis for Britain in 1933 and became British citizens in 1939. He went to several schools but is said to have attended few classes.
“I was very solitary. I hardly spoke English. I was considered rather bad tempered, of which I was rather proud,” he
Freud attended a string of art colleges and had a brief spell with the merchant navy before turning to art full time.
Until the 1950s, his paintings were relatively refined, explained by his use of pointed brushes.
But from around 1956, he began to loosen his style and employ stiffer hogshair brushes and thicker paint, resulting in works like “Woman Smiling” in 1959 which Tate Britain gallery in London described as a “landmark work.”
Christie’s auctioneers said the shift to a fleshier, looser tone was partly down to his friendship with painter Francis Bacon who made a deep impression.
Referring to Bacon’s work, Freud was quoted as saying: “(It) impressed me, his personality affected me. He talked a great deal about the paint itself, carrying the form and imbuing the paint with this sort of life.”
Freud also said of his own art: “As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.”
Freud’s new style initially alienated many critics, some of whom described it as “shocking,” “violent” and “affected.” The starkly intimate nature of many of his portraits could also make viewers feel like voyeurs.
According to the New York Times, Freud’s art remained unfashionable in the United States until 1987, when the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington exhibited his work in a “watershed event.”
Art critic Robert Hughes proclaimed him “the greatest living realist painter” and a Freud cult developed.
Freud married twice and had several children, although he was widely believed to have fathered many more than he acknowledged.
Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson