Dublin’s Rare Date with Lucien
In the Saatchi saturated world of Emin and Hirst, it is refreshing to note a small, if trifling triumph for one of the old guard. In a recent ‘favourite artists’ survey of the UK artistic community, the laconic grump that is Lucien Freud triumphed. Not that he’ll take much notice He beat the likes of Rembrandt and Auerbach- who also made the top ten - to become the artists' favourite artist. Other notable elder statesmen such as Howard Hodgkin and David Hockney also featured highly in the poll, carried out by The Great Art Fair.
However, the so-called avant-garde of young British artists such as Emin, Ofili and Hirst were overlooked. Hirst, who won the Turner Prize in 1995, garnered only one vote from the 500 artists polled, while Emin and Ofili failed to get a single tick, even though 70% of the top ten artists are still alive. What does this, if anything, tell us about our attitudes toward this reclusive octogenarian? Does an aloof persona swell his appeal in a Kubrickian manner? Is nepotism a factor: Is being the artistic grandson of the father of psychology a subconscious aid? Or do we, more simply, love his art? For many, the familiarity of Freud is reliant on newspaper headlines and hazily reported sightings of the man. Few among us have had the firsthand privilege to view the source of his fame: his art. The displaying of his works is as rare as his public engagements. There have been precious few opportunities to see Lucian Freud's paintings and etchings. That said, there have been a few notable exceptions: 1996’s Abbot Hall exhibition of 27 paintings and 13 etchings, covering the whole period of Freud's working life to date; followed latterly by a large retrospective at Tate in 2002.
They say the Irish are lucky, and with the advent of summer, Dubliners will be able to delight in one of the largest ever exhibits of Freud’s work. As of Wednesday, June 6th, the Irish Museum of Modern Art will open its friendly doors to an exhibition simply titled Lucien Freud. It will comprise some 50 paintings, 20 works on paper, and etchings from the last 60 years, several completed just months prior to the exhibition and others being shown for the first time in a public venue. According to IMMA, the exhibition also presents several fragments, or early versions of better-known works, allowing the viewer to peer into Freud’s working process. A number of remarkable photographs capture something of the atmosphere in Freud’s studio. In the accompanying catalogue, the curator of the exhibition, Catherine Lampert, describes Freud’s magnetic hold on people and his instinct to use this as a tool, while varying his ‘style’ with each work. Many years ago Freud described something akin to this in his assertion: “ The subject must be kept under closest observation: if this is done, day and night, the subject – he, she or it – will eventually reveal the all without which selection itself is not possible.”
Several drawings and paintings from the ’40s show the artist experimenting with dream-like ideas and with people and plants in unusual juxtapositions. In Interior Scene (1948), painted during a stay in the Zetland Hotel in Cashel Bay, Connemara, he shows his female subject partly covered by a blackberry branch and a curtain.
In addition to the Cashel Bay painting and the recurring affinity to racing and animals, there are other Irish connections. In the 1940s and ’50s, Freud made several working visits to Dublin, where he found the rawness of the city of that time stimulating. Dead Cock’s Head (1951), for example, is the result of his fascination with the butchers’ displays of unwashed meat. By contrast one of his most recent portraits, The Donegal Man (2006), a portrait of a leading Irish businessman, shows the face of a more modern, enterprising Ireland.
Lucien Freud runs at the IMMA from June 6th until September 2nd. Admission free.
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