LUCIAN FREUD: THE SELF-PORTRAITS | London, Royal Academy of Arts

An exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self-portraits spanning every decade of his life provided a fascinating glimpse into one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists.

Like his grandfather before him, the father of modern psychotherapy who ferreted out unconscious thoughts and motivations, Freud scrutinised himself as meticulously with his paintbrush exposing cracks in his psyche. The collection of paintings, drawings, sketchbooks and personal letters revealed Freud’s lifelong obsession for trying to capture his essence. Indeed, he used mirrors almost to trick himself into exposing a new and different perspective.  

In many paintings of different subjects – his son (Freddy Standing, 2000-01), children (Reflection with Two Children, 1965), an ex-wife (Hotel Bedroom, 1954) – Freud painted himself into the scene whether it be as a dominant shadow over a naked female form (Flora with Blue Toenails, 2000-01) or his face caught in a reflection. Known for his quest for ‘biological truth-telling’, it was interesting to see a towering powerful life size self portrait of a naked Freud in his later years but for boots on his feet, replete with a muscled torso, arms and thighs that any athlete would be proud of.  It hung in stark contrast to some of his female subjects that had been subjected to his critical eye, unearthing and magnifying their flaws, almost cruelly, until their bodies resembled monstrous fleshy caricatures. 

Perhaps Freud was indeed a fine figure of a man that the years were kind to. Or just maybe Freud’s self-portraits were an indication that he hid from his own objective gaze – often portrayed in a reflection. Perhaps no one was more fascinated about Freud than the man himself but it’s open to question whether he ever captured his own truth…Wonder what his grandfather would have made of it….

The exhibition runs until January 26, 2020.

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