REVIEW | Lucian Freud: New Perspectives – National Gallery, London

The current Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Gallery, London, bears the bombastic subtitle New Perspectives, but for whom?

Celebrating the centenary of his birth, the exhibition walks like any other Freud exhibition. Puritan and broadly chronological, we see how the artist’s caricaturish, muddy-looking early style quickly matured into the impasto-laden portraitist we know and love today. Throughout all of it, the artist’s acumen for observation and small details is laid bare for all to admire.

The great selling point for this show is that practically all the exhibited works come from private collections, each featuring a host of important art-world figures in post-war Britain; curiously, his titles never actually identify them. This is also the only chance to see Freud’s (hilarious) portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II, last shown in 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery’s Lucian Freud: Portraits exhibition.

In general, it’s a pretty nice exhibition, so it’s much recommended. Freud was also given the keys to the National Gallery, where he would come in at night to take inspiration, so it’s a fitting venue to host this.

But going back to this claim of new perspectives, which ‘looks beyond Freud’s fame and infamy to focus on the artist’s uncompromising commitment to painting in the 20th century’, the main takeaway (though you wouldn’t actually know it) is how he assimilated tropes from Western European painting; flowers from Holbein portraits, fleshy nudes from Titian and Rubens, still lives from the Dutch, etc. Any further revelations seem to apply solely to the catalogue, which features interviews with contemporary artists.

In my opinion, there is very little else one can squeeze out of a purely monographic Freud exhibition, especially for someone whose work is so transparent; dialogues and thematic presentations are much more insightful.

As I walked through from room to room, I was amazed to find myself comparing his choice of elevated perspectives with that of Pierre Bonnard. Now that’s a new perspective.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Lucian Freud: New Perspectives runs until 22 January 2023 at the National Gallery, London, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

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