Lucian Freud, Innovative Painter of the Intimate, Dead at 88

BY Mike Melia  July 21, 2011 at 4:44 PM EDT

0721_lucianfreud.jpg

Lucian Freud, the British painter who helped redefine modern portraiture and figurative painting, died Wednesday night at the age of 88 at his home in London.

“I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me,” Freud once told the art critic Robert Hughes.

Freud cast his subjects in direct, corporeal terms, and required them to pose for hours, nearly always in the nude. He painted friends, lovers and other ordinary people, their faces frequently extolling minor anguish to the viewer.

More recently, he painted famous portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Kate Moss and art critic Martin Gayford, who turned the experience of sitting for the artist into a book last year.

“The relationship between sitter and subject, in his work, overturned traditional portraiture,” wrote William Grimes in The New York Times.

Freud’s work was unpopular in the U.S. at first, but has grown in recent decades following a retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum in 1987. His portraits also broke auction records. In 2008, his portrait of the civil servant Sue Tilley, showing an obese woman laying on a couch, sold for $33.6 million in 2008.

William Feaver, a British art critic who organized a 2002 retrospective of Freud’s work, told the New York Times, “Freud has generated a life’s worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed the extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting.”

Lucian was born in Berlin in 1922, but the family was forced to move to London when Hitler came to power in 1933. His father was the youngest son of Sigmund Freud.

He was heavily influenced by friend and fellow artist Francis Bacon. Freud married and divorced Kathleen Epstein, the daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, as well as the novelist Lady Caroline Blackwood. Epstein was the subject of some of his most famous paintings, including “Girl With Roses,” “Girl With a Kitten,” and “Girl With a White Dog.”

“I work from the people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know,” Mr. Freud said.