Ahead of our Lucian Freud-inspired Nudes and Dogs Event in Glasgow, we thought we’d take a look at the man (and the dogs!) who inspired it…
The last painting Lucian Freud produced, aged 88, is of a man and a dog.
In it we can see all the stylistic traits for which its painter became famous: a monumental nude body rendered sculptural by rigid lines of impasto paint; a muted, earthy palette revolving almost entirely around flesh; and an atmosphere that is at once intimate and distant, simultaneously revealing and mysterious.
There is, of course, also a dog. In this instance, the canine is question is Eli, one of Freud’s beloved whippets – and these dogs, as sinuous and mutely expressive as the artist’s brushstrokes, reappear time and again throughout his work, almost as important as the nudes by which he made his name.
Freud himself was a great lover of dogs. “I am impressed by their lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness, their animal pragmatism… I’m really interested in people as animals… Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason… I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet.”
Both a physical and spiritual descendent of Sigmund Freud, one of the pioneers of modern psychology (and another famous dog lover), Lucian shares his grandfather’s interest in the interior. Instead of using words and science to explore his subjects’ psychologies, however, Lucian instead used images that often say just as much, or more, with their heavy limbs and their thick silences.
Born in Berlin in December 1922, Freud’s Jewish family moved to England in 1933 in order to escape the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Freud subsequently studied at various colleges in and around London, and had his first exhibition of paintings in 1944. His early works show influences of German Expressionism and Surrealism, smooth and strange juxtapositions of humans and animals, but he came to develop his signature mature style when he started using large hogs-hair brushes. He would often clean his brush after each stroke when painting skin, so that the tones remained constantly varied, creating fantastic fleshes of careful colours that are not perhaps exactly how our eye would see them, but convey perfectly how we feel them.
‘There is a distinction between fact and truth,’ Freud wrote, recognising this difference. ‘Truth has an element of revelation about it. If something is true, it does more than strike one as merely being so.’
Though he is often called a realist, this epithet is, perhaps, when applied to Freud, slightly misleading, for while his works are undoubtedly recognisable as lifelike people in everyday environments, they are carefully constructed in a way that would never occur in reality. They expose for us in a frozen moment an eternity of inner-life; they frame in the way that only art can a feeling or a state and in those thick brushstrokes bolster its fragility so that it can exist, preserved, in the world, instead of fading, as it would in reality, after its first bright, clear second.
This feeling of weight is perhaps a result of Freud’s strenuous process. His paintings took months and sometimes years to complete, with the models being present almost the entire time. He painted standing up, and this raked perspective seems to further contribute to the penetrating gaze of the paintings, which in their corporeality always remind us of the painter as much as the subject. ‘His canvases never let us lose sight of the effort required to get the painting painted,’ critic Roberta Smith writes. ‘They grant the model enormous respect, but no place to hide.’
Freud himself professed an interest in “the insides and undersides of things” – and curiously he grants us access to these private spaces through an artful accumulation of fronts and surfaces. His models may appear to us as nude, but they are clothed complexly by their emotions and memories, showing the expressive possibilities of the human form, and the rich potential of bare skin.
And what is remarkable, perhaps, in his pictures of humans and dogs, is the lack of difference between the two types of subject. Freed from any kind of master/subject hierarchy by a similar treatment of line and texture, transformed as the shared destination of an unflinching gaze, while we may at first see only two conjunctions of matter, shortly after we see the remarkable relationship between them. We look at a dog like a human, and a human like a dog, and for a moment, we see more of both.
Inspired to produce your own doggie-masterpiece? Grab a ticket to our Nudes and Dogs special before they sell out!