October 19th, 2008

Lucian Freud

I don't get Lucian Freud. Or, rather, I don't accept his reputation. He seems to me to be a perfectly decent, rather academic painter, for whom the 20th century might as well not have happened. He can't draw, his palette is limited, he doesn't understand light and he rarely moves beyond the studio. His schtick- big portraits and figure studies, heavily impastoed- is the same as Rembrandt's- and Rembrandt's been dead 300 years. Where Rembrandt flattered his sitters and had the trick of making them look soulful, Freud views his with an unforgiving eye. But he can afford to; the balance of power has shifted since Rembrandt's day,  the artist has the upper hand and Freud's patrons are so cowed by his reputation they'd feel short-changed if he went easy on them.  He painted Her Majesty the Queen as an ugly old crosspatch- and she let him, because he's a godlike artist and she's only an anachronism- though I'll bet she doesn't like the outcome. He does nudes too- blotchy, fleshly nudes- with the genitals prominently on display.  They're a kind of higly-respectable porn. I like them.

I don't want to knock him. He's OK. I don't doubt he's utterly devoted to his work. If his prices are stupid, it's because he's the perfect artist for the person who knows nothing about art, but likes to own it.  He's a living legend ( it helps that he's a notorious shagaholic- Like Picasso, like Augustus John) whose work is superficially daring - ooh, look genitals!- without being bewildering or confrontational.  His big, painterly oils are easy to live with. Put one on your wall and your dinner guests will recognise it for what it is, applaud your taste, and whistle through their teeth as they imagine the price tag.

There's an early Freud coming up for sale next week at Christies. It's an unfinished portrait of Francis Bacon- muddly-coloured, brooding- which makes its subject look like nothing so much as a rotten pear. They want £7,000,000 for it.   If the price isn't met, the art world will take it as a sign that the bottom is falling out of the market and great Troy's afire.

About time too, if you ask me.