Revealing And Emotional Portraits By Lucian Freud Go On Display At Royal Academy

Lucian Freud Self-portraits, Royal Academy. ★★★★☆

Revealing And Emotional Portraits By Lucian Freud Go On Display At Royal Academy Lucian Freud Self-portraits, Royal Academy. 4

A woman lies on the bed looking up, the shadowy figure of a man in the background. The man is painter Lucian Freud and the woman in the foreground is his wife at the time, though you wouldn't know this from the hostile atmosphere evident in the painting — unsurprisingly, they were divorced a few years later. It's one of several paintings in this exhibition of Lucian Freud's self-portraits at Royal Academy of Arts.

Starting with his early experiments with Surrealism, including Freud peeking out from behind a wall while a lemon takes centre stage, it's not long before he hits his stride with a trio of works depicting his face filled with dynamic energy in the centre. In the adjacent painting, his face is being twisted, as if by a pair of strong, invisible hands.

Freud looks more stalker than husband in this painting. © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images

While there was a major Freud exhibition not too long ago, it's the stories in this show that really spark these paintings to life. A self-portrait shows Lucian Freud with a black eye obtained from an argument with a cab driver, leaving us to ponder who was at fault.

Another section of the show consists of portraits of other people, with Freud only just visible, either as a reflection or a pair of shoes. That may seem a con in a show of self-portraits but as we can see from the looming shadow of Freud's head over a young woman lying naked in front of him, it's clear the painting is more about Freud and his attitude towards the woman in question than it is about her.

A self-portrait showing a weary Freud in later life. © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images

The show ends with a self-portrait in his later years, showing him weary and grizzled — Freud never aimed to flatter in his portraits and he treated himself in the same way. I leave the exhibition feeling that I've had a quick tour through Freud's life and his emotional states — it's testament to how impressive Freud was at capturing pivotal moments of his life in self-portraits.

Lucian Freud: Self-portraits at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 26 January 2020, £18 for adults.

Last Updated 28 October 2019