One of the most celebrated British artists of the past century, Lucian Freud transformed the genre of portraiture. Characterised by raw intimacy and precision, his paintings, drawings and etchings broke new ground in the depiction of human flesh.
Freud was born in Berlin in 1922. His father was the Jewish architect Ernst Freud; his grandfather was psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In 1933 the family fled to Britain. Freud studied at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham, as well as Goldsmith’s College in London. His early work had a sharp, surreal quality, often consisting of still lifes and landscapes.
As portraits began to dominate Freud’s practice in the 1940s, he turned to those closest to him. Early examples depicted lovers including Lorna Wishart, Kitty Garman and Caroline Blackwood. He painted his friend Francis Bacon, who would later return the favour in the 1969 masterpiece Three Studies of Lucian Freud.
During the late 1950s, Freud met the young artist Suzy Boyt. Her portrait Woman Smiling (1958–59) marked a turning point in his practice, ushering in a new painterly naturalism defined by the use of a coarse hog’s-hair brush.
From the mid-1960s, Freud began to paint nudes. Figures such as Janey Longman, Jacquetta Eliot and Celia Paul would come to define these virtuosic explorations of the human form, which culminated in the 1980 masterwork Naked Portrait with Reflection. During this period, Freud’s children also began to appear, with Ib, Esther, Bella and others featuring regularly in his paintings. His complex family tree is captured in Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) (1981–83), which achieved a record-breaking price of $86,265,000 at Christie’s in 2022.
As Freud became an international star towards the turn of the millennium, he took his practice to bold new heights. The extraordinary figures of Leigh Bowery and the ‘benefits supervisor’ Sue Tilley gave rise to some of his most ambitious portraits. Elsewhere, he painted icons ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to Kate Moss. His self-portraits — a constant thread throughout his practice — became increasingly poignant, charting the passage of life across his ageing form. Works from this period, including Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994), Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) and The Brigadier (2003–04), have all achieved top prices at Christie’s.
Freud died in 2011. In 2022, museums across London celebrated his centenary year, led by a major retrospective at the National Gallery.