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Exhibition Review: Lucian Freud Portraits

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130 Portraits by Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London

My copies of catalogs from the London National Portrait Gallery exhibition.

Photos © 2012 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Exhibition Dates:
• Openined at the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK, from 9 February to 27 May 2012.
• Travelled to Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, in Dallas/Fort Worth, USA, from 1 July to 28 October 2012.

This exhibition of portraits by the famous painter Lucian Freud features 130 works from public and private collections. It includes paintings across his career, showing how his style developed. It includes some that have not been on public display before and, poignantly, the painting he was still working on when he died in 2011.

As a fan of Freud's paintings, I was predisposed to enjoy this exhibition and I was not disappointed, to say the least. It was beyond what I'd hoped for, with most of the ground floor of the NPG given over to the exhibition. If you're familiar with the National Portrait Gallery, then visualize where the information desk is, and where the exhibition space starts around the corner to the left. From there, through all the rooms, to the very back where the annual BP Portrait Awards show is held. All that is Freud. Plus a wall of etchings before you go in, which is open to any visitor to the gallery.

The exhibition is huge, there are so many paintings to take in, across the whole of Freud's career. The paintings are spaced so you can generally get a good look, and I didn't have to peek over shoulders too much of the time to see during the gallery members' preview or the first day of opening. (The press preview was, by contrast, packed and noisy!) With so many paintings, and so many rooms, it felt as if there was always at least one someone wasn't looking at. Make it easier for yourself too by resisting the urge to follow the paintings in a rigidly sequential order as each room or area is from a particular period.

Freud's early style was extremely detailed, with precision brushstrokes laid down with a fine brush and without texture in the paint. In the mid-1950s he swapped from using soft sable brushes to coarse, hog-hair brushes and standing at an easel rather than sitting down. The change in his artwork is drastic and it became more vigorous, showing rapidly in the brushwork and, more slowly, increased texture in the paint. You can track this development through the various rooms of the exhibition and, even if you didn't know the reason why, it's evident that there's a dramatic change in his approach.

Next page: Sizes of the Paintings...

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