Lucian Freud is best known for his frequently visceral figurative paintings. That he also worked with natural subjects comes as something of a surprise. These works are by no means unknown, but they are certainly unfamiliar to the more general viewer and add a perspective to his more famous oeuvre.
There’s a worthwhile comparison with Don McCullin’s landscape photography, or Robert Mapplethorpe’s flowers. Both of these are from later in their creators’ careers, but require a knowledge of what went before to better understand the thought processes behind them. Freud didn’t come to flowers and plants late – these works appear throughout his life, but they nevertheless add a counterpoint to the bulk of his output.
Usefully, Giovanni Aloi includes a couple of the figure paintings to provide a starting point, and also a history of plants in art. I can’t help wondering, though, given the idiosyncratic nature of Freud’s work, whether this is strictly necessary. There are plenty of other books on that subject a general reader could approach if they felt it necessary. Nevertheless this, alongside the figurative recap, adds to the sense of completeness of the present volume.
Freud’s approach to plants is by no means lyrical and there is a sense of enquiry and investigation in his depictions. Although they are more directly representational than the figure work, the eye is uncompromising and the composition rarely straightforward – a sense of the surreal persists. Where figures and faces appear, they often appear questioning or even disturbed; the artist’s unflinching eye and attention to detail are always present.
This is a beautiful and intriguing book that adds a new dimension to one of the towering greats of British art of the Twentieth Century and does its subject more than ample justice.
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