With This Freud, What You See Is What You Get ; Artist Lucian Freud, Grandson of Sigmund, Rejects Symbolism in Favor of Hyperrealistic Portraits

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Lucian Freud is considered Britain's greatest living figurative painter and a consummate portraitist, primarily of nudes. But he has also been criticized, as Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight points out, for his merciless depiction of the frailty of the human condition.

Whatever you may make of the excruciating detail with which the German-born painter has executed his subjects over his nearly 60- year career, the very fact that he has had that long to develop his technique and vision makes this 110 painting retrospective fascinating.

As curator William Feaver says, "Very few artists get that sort of time to develop." He points to some of history's great artists, such as Van Gogh, who died at age 38. Mr. Feaver notes that few have lived as long or been as relentless in the pursuit of a single stylistic vision.

Freud began and still pursues his career in what the curator calls a dogged attempt to render what he sees, honestly and unsentimentally. This collection of works gives viewers ample opportunity to explore the progress of an artist who remained devoted to the exploration of figurative work, despite coming of age during the most tumultuous and explosive decades in art history.

"He never felt the need to keep step with other art movements," says Feaver.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) plays the sole American host (through May 25) to this show, which originated at London's Tate Museum.

British actor Julian Sands, son-in-law of Caroline Blackwood - Freud's second wife and occasional painter's model - observed at the celebrity preview that the California museum has given the painting a kind of light and space that the Tate did not. The museum is indeed spacious and airy, which allows the paintings to be even more carefully observed than perhaps most viewers are ready to handle.

Freud's work, as most critics and collectors agree, is unsettling to say the least. It's impossible to look at the paintings of the artist's mother without sensing the depression surrounding the woman. Feaver points out that the artist began painting his mother in the years after his father's death, a period during which she was often deeply sad. …

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