The Rewards of Rivalry; Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach Have Been Friends for 50 Years. A New Joint Show at London's V&A Shows Just How Fruitful That Relationship Has Been

By Pepper, Tara; Freud, Lucian | Newsweek International, May 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Rewards of Rivalry; Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach Have Been Friends for 50 Years. A New Joint Show at London's V&A Shows Just How Fruitful That Relationship Has Been


Pepper, Tara, Freud, Lucian, Newsweek International


Byline: Tara Pepper

The art world is studded with well-known rivalries. Matisse and Picasso, van Gogh and Gauguin--all found that their envy sparked creativity. But few artistic pairs have enjoyed such a fruitful and fond friendship as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. The duo, who were born nearly a decade apart in Berlin and both moved to Britain in the 1930s, have been pals for half a century. And on April 25 their first joint exhibition, with six new works by Auerbach, 75, and four by Freud, 83, opened at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (through May 29). The works are hung alongside a selection of masterly landscapes by John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, who both count among their influences. "It's a fantastic feeling to suddenly see these new works [among the classics]. They just look as though they belong there," says William Feaver, Freud's biographer, who has posed regularly for paintings by Auerbach, and who also curated the exhibit.

While younger and flashier British artists have grabbed headlines over the years, Freud and Auerbach have quietly continued to create powerful, intimate and genuinely innovative art well into their 70s and 80s. Their new works are almost hidden away, melding seamlessly with the older pieces in the museum's far-flung Paintings Gallery. But a frisson of excitement periodically fills the musty hall as a group of weary tourists wander in only to realize what they're looking at. There's no guide or catalog, so visitors are forced to confront these challenging new works head on, looking from Constable to Freud and back, searchingly. "It shows how drama travels across the genres and the centuries," Feaver says.

Both artists are still churning out new ideas. Freud's large portrait "Eli and David" (2005-06) portrays a burly man sprawled in a threadbare armchair, with a fragile, skinny whippet curled in his lap. The sitter has turned to look at something to his right, his expression tinged with a combination of ecstasy, exhaustion and anxiety. His burly arms frame the picture, comforting and protective. After a series of paintings of pregnant women, such as model Kate Moss and Jerry Hall, it seems Freud is exploring the nurturing side of men, while echoing a medieval Madonna and child. "It's an astonishing new vision," says Feaver. …

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