HYPNOTIC AND HURTFUL; Those Closest to the Enigmatic Artist Lucian Freud Paint a Portrait of Him as Candid and Unflinching as Any of His Pictures in a New Documentary

Daily Mail (London), February 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

HYPNOTIC AND HURTFUL; Those Closest to the Enigmatic Artist Lucian Freud Paint a Portrait of Him as Candid and Unflinching as Any of His Pictures in a New Documentary


Byline: Lucian Freud

Surely it's every documentary maker's worst nightmare: You finally persuade one of the greatest artists in the world - a famously difficult individual - to have a film made about him. Then, when the questions have barely begun, your subject dies. Such was the dilemma facing Randall Wright last year when he was sanctioned to make a documentary about artist Lucian Freud, who died in July, aged 88. For a while, it was unclear whether the film would be made. But, after some deliberation, the cameras began to roll again, focusing on the friends, lovers and associates Lucian left behind.

In the event, the programme might be more powerful than had Lucian lived, as those who knew him were now willing to speak freely. And perhaps it is fitting that the man whose portraits were famous for their brutal realism was similarly scrutinised in death. 'I paint people not because of what they're like, not exactly in spite of what they're like, but how they happen to be,' Lucian said. His acquaintances have been equally candid and the picture that emerges of this extraordinary man is as nuanced as his art.

As you might expect, some of the most moving contributions are from his children. The film pooh-poohs the idea that the infamously scruffy lothario sired up to 40 children, concluding there are unlikely to be more than the 14 he acknowledged. Still, the stories they do tell - his daughters agreed to pose nude for him on the grounds it was the only way to forge a relationship with their father - are deeply poignant.

Bella Freud, an acclaimed fashion designer, weeps as she recalls cutting her father's hair when he was in his eighties. 'I hadn't really touched him before,' she says. 'It was lovely to run my hand through his hair.' Her sister, novelist Esther, remembers the portrait Freud painted of her as a teen. It was all stocky realism, and she thought, 'I'm not as big as that.' Freud's response? 'That's what you think!' As an artist he was right, she says. 'He wasn't trying to depict an image of me, he was painting who I am.'

The picture that emerges of Lucian Freud is of a man who put art ahead of everything and whose eyes - 'peering and piercing' according to fellow artist David Hockney - missed nothing. This is a man who watched on a video monitor as his painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold at Christie's for a recordbreaking [pounds sterling]17.2million. Did he swoon as the bidding rose? No. While everyone else was speechless as the bids went higher and higher, Freud was observing the people in the auction house and commenting on how they were behaving. For Freud was the ultimate people-watcher, equally enthralled by queens and commoners. But he painted them on HIS terms, not theirs.

In the film his cousin Carola Zentner, says he once turned down a commission to paint the Pope. …

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