Lucian freud

The joy of hanging out with artists

Lynn Barber is known as a distinguished journalist, but what she always wanted to do was hang out with artists. This book feels like a marvellous cocktail party, packed with the painters and sculptors Barber has interviewed over the years: Howard Hodgkin, Phyllida Barlow, Grayson Perry, Maggi Hambling. Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin eye one another warily from opposite sides of the room; Salvador Dali’s ocelot weaves between the guests; everyone, naturally, is smoking. Lucian Freud is a no-show – though having refused Barber’s many interview requests, he did send a scrawled note explaining he had no wish to ‘be shat upon by a stranger’. Feuds and gossip are the

‘There are an awful lot of my paintings I don’t like,’ admitted Francis Bacon

In 1959, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was hanging above the bed where Francis Bacon nursed a fractured skull after falling downstairs drunk at his framer Alfred Hecht’s house on the King’s Road. It was there to be re-framed – a circumstantial detail Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan report neutrally, en passant, in their 2021 biography Francis Bacon: Revelations. An inadvertent cry, nay a scream, for attention? Or a frame-up? It was a decade after Bacon painted his first screaming pope, a palimpsest obviously based on Velázquez but equally in hock to Munch. Francis Bacon: A Self-Portrait in Words is an annotated compilation by Michael Peppiatt of statements, letters, studio notes

John Deakin: the perfect anti-hero of the tawdry Soho scene

During the various lockdowns I found myself wondering how Iain Sinclair was coping with the restrictions. It seemed unthinkable that this unflinching punisher of pavements could be stuck with 30 minutes round the park. But, as it turns out, sequestering, in a fashion that only the Scots word ‘thrawn’ can do justice to, has resulted in the most archetypal Sinclair book yet. John Deakin is the pariah genius of the title. During the ‘brain-dead hibernation’ of the pandemic, Sinclair got a short-term loan of ‘17 albums of John Deakin’s photographs, fresh prints made from recovered contact sheets; a substantial history of his labours, a flickbook parade of the stunned and

Do we need another Lucian Freud exhibition?

Do we need another Lucian Freud exhibition? After years of exposure to his paintings of naked bodies posed like casualties of a car crash in a nudist camp, we might have reached the ‘move along, nothing to see here’ point. But it seems we can’t get enough of the monstre sacré. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1922, London is being treated to a Freud fest of no fewer than seven exhibitions, the most prestigious of which is at the National Gallery. Subtitled New Perspectives, the National’s show promises a change of viewpoint from the perspective now most commonly associated with Freud (that of looking down on figures

Valuable reassessment of British art: Barbican’s Postwar Modern reviewed

Notoriously, the past is another country: what’s more, it’s a terrain for which the guidebooks need constantly to be rewritten. That’s one attraction of the new exhibition Postwar Modern at the Barbican. It’s a survey of what might seem all-too-familiar territory: British art in the two decades that followed VE day. Yet it succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten or undervalued movements and people, the good, the bad and – most intriguingly – candidates for reassessment. The decades that followed the second world war were marked by dreary austerity, perhaps explaining the tendency for the art to be coloured oatmeal, beige, grey and brown. But this was also a time of

His final paintings are like Jackson Pollocks: RA’s Late Constable reviewed

On 13 July 1815, John Constable wrote to his fiancée, Maria Bicknell, about this and that. Interspersed with a discussion of the fine weather and the lack of village gossip, he added a disclaimer on the subject posterity would most like to hear about: his art. ‘You know that I do not like to talk of what I am about in painting (I am such a conjuror).’ Perhaps by that he meant he did not like to give away how he did his tricks. As Late Constable, the magnificent exhibition currently at the Royal Academy, makes clear, he was a true magician with paintbrush and palette. Before your eye he

Mothers and daughters: I Couldn’t Love You More, by Esther Freud, reviewed

A new novel by Esther Freud — her ninth — raises the perennial but always fascinating question about the use of autobiography in fiction. Since her first novel, Hideous Kinky, Freud has frequently used an underpinning of autobiography, but mostly it’s been discreet. You didn’t need to distinguish what was life, what fiction. But with I Couldn’t Love You More the auto-biographical element has become overt and somehow obtrusive. Freud’s previous novel, Mr Mac and Me, concerned with Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s stay in Suffolk at the start of the second world war, is on the cusp of being an historical novel. This one is close to autofiction. In the acknowledgements,

The joy of socially distanced gallery-going

Not long after the pubs, big galleries have all started to reopen, like flowers unfolding, one by one. The timing reminded me of an anecdote that Lucian Freud used to tell about a Soho painter friend he took into the National Gallery after it had shut (as some senior artists are entitled to do). They arrived after closing time in the drinking holes of Soho, and the painter friend was staggering and swaying so much that Lucian — who was not easily rattled — became alarmed that he was going to put one of his flailing arms through a Rembrandt. I wonder how those art-lovers of yesteryear would have coped

How John Constable got masterpiece after masterpiece out of a tiny corner of rural Suffolk

Before his marriage John Constable returned regularly in early summer to his native village of East Bergholt. When he wrote from there to his wife-to-be, Maria Bicknell, he almost always exclaimed that Suffolk was ‘in great beauty’. His enthusiasm was never more eloquent than on 22 June 1812, when he declared: ‘Nothing can exceed the beautiful appearance of the country at this time, its freshness, its amenity — the very breeze that passes the window is delightful, it has the voice of Nature.’ I often think about Constable (1776–1837) as I pace across the water meadows on my daily constitutional — partly because this too is an East Anglian landscape

To ‘review’ such supreme paintings is slightly absurd: Titian at the National Gallery reviewed

In 1576 Venice was gripped by plague. The island of the Lazzaretto Vecchio, on which the afflicted were crammed three to a bed, was compared to hell itself. In the midst of this horror Tiziano Vecellio, the greatest painter in Europe, died — apparently of something else. He was in his eighties and working, it seems, almost to the end. Titian: Love, Desire, Death, which was briefly on at the National Gallery, before it was closed down this week by our own plague, contained several of the greatest masterpieces of his old age — and also of European art. It comprises just seven canvases, all done for Philip II of

To fill a major Tate show requires a huge talent. Dora Maar didn’t have that

Dora Maar first attracted the attention of Pablo Picasso while playing a rather dangerous game at the celebrated left-bank café Les Deux Magots. She ‘kept driving a small pointed penknife between her fingers into the wood of the table’. From time to time she missed, and a drop of blood appeared on her gloves. This alarming form of digital Russian roulette was the basis for an early work by the performance artist Marina Abramovic, who will be featured at a major show at the Royal Academy next autumn. There is nothing so arresting in the large exhibition devoted to Maar’s work at Tate Modern as the images of the artist

Free of Lucian Freud — Celia Paul’s road to fulfilment

I was looking the other day at a video of the artist Celia Paul in conversation with the curator of her recent exhibition at the Huntington Library in California. The image projected there of a reserved and quietly-spoken woman, hesitant, diffident and patently ill at ease in the spotlight, left me very unprepared for the raw honesty and openness of this memoir. Two early stories give an idea of what lies ahead. The first is of her five-year-old self, the youngest so far in a family of four daughters of a missionary father in India, making herself seriously ill with jealousy on the arrival of a fifth sister. She resolved,

What’s in a name? | 8 August 2019

Perhaps we should blame Vasari. Ever since the publication of his Lives of the Artists, and to an ever-increasing extent, the world of art has been governed by the star system. In other words, the first question likely to be asked about a painting or sculpture is whodunit? And if the answer turns out to be, not Leonardo da Vinci — as has been suggested in the case of the controversial ‘Salvator Mundi’ — then the price tag becomes enormously smaller. Does this matter? Artist Unknown, a little exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, investigates the case of the anonymous work. This draws on the rich resources of the museums of

Feasts and flowers

Cedric Morris is often referred to as an artist-plantsman, and while as a breeder of plants, most particularly of irises, he has always been highly regarded in horticultural circles, his reputation as a painter has been subject to regular fluctuations. Last year, two excellent and complementary London exhibitions — Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman at the Garden Museum and Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden  Wall at Philip Mould & Company — did a great deal to revive interest in his paintings; and so a joint biography of Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines is welcome. They met in 1918 at an Armistice party hosted by Lett (as he was always known)

What you see is what you get | 25 April 2019

There’s no avoiding the Britishness of British art. It hits me every time I walk outside and see dappled trees against a silver-grey cloud that looks like it was painted by Thomas Gainsborough, or look in the mirror and feel the same gooseflesh anxiety as I do when I see a portrait by Lucian Freud. It’s got something to do with the light — that pale, ever-changing clarity that is so kind to clouds and, when Freud has got his model naked under the skylight, so unkind to human flesh. The phrase the Englishness of English art was coined by Nikolaus Pevsner in the title of a classic art-history book

Fine prints

Artists’ prints have been around for almost as long as the printed book. Indeed, they have similar origins in Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and the boom in book and paper production that followed. Consequently, although the art dealer Bernard Jacobson has been around for quite a while — his gallery celebrated its 50th anniversary this year — and began as a print publisher, he arrived on the scene rather too late to have acted for Albrecht Dürer in person. Nonetheless, and for good reasons, it is with Dürer that he begins his current exhibition, Prints I wish I had published. Dürer was the first great artist to achieve

A whiff of wine and garlic

I have occasionally mused that there is plenty of scope for a Tate East Anglia — a pendant on the other side of the country to Tate St Ives. If ever that fantasy came to pass, the collection would include — in addition to Grayson Perry, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, and John Wonnacott, contemporary master of the Thames Estuary — a section on Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris. The more one delves into the history of modern art in Britain — indeed, into art history in general — the more one discovers that many reputations are still free-floating. Morris’s is certainly one of these: there is no consensus as to how

Faulty connections

In the mid-1940s, Frank Auerbach remarked, the arbiters of taste had decided what was going to happen in British art: Graham Sutherland was going to be the leading painter. ‘Then downstage left, picking his nose, Francis Bacon sauntered on. And the whole scene was changed.’ But how did it alter? What happened to figurative painting in London in the decades after Bacon exploded on to the scene? This is a question with which All Too Human at Tate Britain grapples. It is an old problem. When in 1976 R.B. Kitaj proposed that there was an important group of figurative artists at work here, a ‘School of London’, he defined them

The apple of his eye

The critic and painter Adrian Stokes once remarked on how fortunate Cézanne had been to be bald, ‘considering the wonderful volume that he always achieved for the dome of his skull’. It’s a good joke, and all the better for being perfectly true — as is demonstrated by the superb sequence of self-portraits included in Cézanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. These are the finest hairless craniums in the history of art. That, however, is only one of the attractions of the exhibition. This is the most impressive array of work, by one of the greatest of all painters, to be seen in London in more than 20 years.

A tale of two artists

Wherever one looked in the arts scene of the 1940s and ’50s, one was likely to encounter the tragicomic figure of John Minton. Whether he was dancing to the trad jazz of his pupil Humphrey Lyttelton — who recalled his style on the floor as ‘formidable and dangerous’ — or drinking at the Colony Room where Francis Bacon once poured champagne over his head, the painter and illustrator was ubiquitous. Even if he never produced a great picture, Minton deserves the exhibition at Pallant House, Chichester, marking the centenary of his birth, and the fine accompanying book by Frances Spalding and Simon Martin. In its way, failure can be as