Contemporary Art

21 Facts About Lucian Freud

By Annikka Olsen

1. Born in 1922 in Berlin, Germany, Lucian Freud ultimately relocated to London, England, to escape the rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazism.

2. Lucian Freud was the grandson of renowned and pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

3. Despite the fame of his grandfather, and the deeply psychological readings of much of his oeuvre, Freud always insisted there was no connection between psychoanalysis and his work.

4. Freud met famed painter Francis Bacon in the 1940s, sparking a deep—and sometimes volatile—friendship and rivalry that lasted nearly 25 years. Freud exhibited alongside Francis Bacon at the 1954 Venice Biennale in the British Pavilion.

5. He was a prolific self-portraitist; he completed his first self-portrait in 1939, and his final one 64 years later. This has led to comparisons of other famous historical self-portraitists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh and Egon Schiele.

6. In the 1940s, Freud began appearing in public with one of his two pet sparrow hawks, which normally lived in his studio. It was said the hawk sitting on his shoulder was quite unnerving, as it would stare at anyone who came near Freud.

7. Freud often studied animals, both dead and alive. He was known to study animals at the London Zoo, as well as cadavers and taxidermy animals.

8. When Freud began devoting his practice to portraiture, his working method was highly demanding. He worked directly from life, and required the subject sit for hours at a time over may months. David Hockney, who was the subject of one of his portraits, claimed that he sat for hundreds of hours for Freud.

Painting of a man in the gray suit from below, to the left of him and the small images of two children.
Lucian Freud, Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait), 1965. Image courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

9. Freud was self-admittedly a largely absentee father, as his lifelong focus was always on his art. To this end, some of his children sat for him when they were older in order to spend more time with him.

10. The artist was quite the gambler, and would sometimes pay off his bookie, Alfie McLean, with paintings. When McLean died, he had a collection of around 23 works that had an valuation in the realm of £100 million.

11. His portraits of his children, done as nudes like most of his other portraits, have garnered the most controversy; while some consider them exploitative, others have attributed this to the prudish culture of Britain at the time.

A nude white woman with dark hair reclines on a bed with dirty white sheets. A painting of her is on an easel to the right of the bed.
Sabina Donelly modeling for Lucian Freud, 2006. Image courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

12. Although the majority of portraits by Freud were of unidentified individuals, following his rise to international fame in the late 1980s, he completed several portraits of famous and powerful people, including supermodel Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth II.

13. Freud was known for his near obsession with detail, and simultaneously his ability to render nearly anyone in his portraits in an unflattering way—perhaps best exemplified by his full length, nude portrait of Kate Moss.

14. Despite his rigorous painting method, which centered on a seven day a week, full day working schedule, he insisted on painting standing up, saying that sitting caused him to become “more and more agitated.”

A photograph of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in a slate gray suit, having her portrait painted.
Queen Elizabeth II sits for her portrait with Lucian Freud in 2001. Image courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

15. In 2000, Freud gifted his studio assistant David Dawson a whippet. The small dog would go on to feature prominently within the artist’s oeuvre.

16. Massive canvases never daunted Freud; instead, he simply used a set of small steps to reach every corner of his sometimes larger-than-life compositions.

17. Although not as well known, late in his career Freud began completing etchings, which he had first experimented with as an art student.

18. Freud was an incredibly private man, and shunned any attempt to use his biography as a tool for understanding his work.

19. In the midst of his mature period, Freud began changing out his pliant, sable brushes for stubbly, boar hair brushes, generally correlating with his use of thicker paint application and gestural brushwork.

Lucian Freud standing in front of one of his nude portraits.
Lucian Freud at work on Naked Portrait, 2004-05. Image Courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

20. Only once did Freud complete a portrait of someone he did not like: the book dealer Bernard Breslauer. He made the portrait overly grotesque, and Breslauer had it destroyed.

21. Freud was known for being extremely derisive of the Renaissance period; where the Renaissance painter celebrated man as God’s supreme creation, Freud forefronted human’s physical deterioration and the fleeting nature of life.

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