I approached the Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery with much anticipation, having lapped up the absorbing “Man with a Blue Scarf” by Martin Gayford, who sat for the artist and wrote about the experience.
It didn’t matter at first that I didn’t know where to start looking at the exhibition, if I was approaching it the wrong way round (sure enough I did, starting in the middle, heading out to the end and then back through the middle to the beginning). The paintings exist in their own time, you peer at them and start to feel the passage of time that each one encompasses. The Benefits Supervisor who’s been posing so long she has become one and the same with the straining couch there to support her. Her large pillows of flesh echoing the creases and bulges of the upholstery.
The exhibition covers seven decades of his work and as I went back through time I felt I could not give these immense and intense works the concentration they deserve. As the cramped gallery space filled up with fellow peerers, bobbing about trying to catch a glance, I was reminded of something someone said of the exhibition lately: they weren’t all meant to be seen hung together.
Now, away from it all, I am questioning the usefulness of massive retrospectives such as this. There’s never a lack of blockbusters, crowd-pullers, and they are always ‘must-sees’. However, would not a slice, just one decade or two, be more representative of the intensity of Freud’s vision? Or if seven decades are to be represented, edit each one, and tell the story in a way that flows along through time, instead of presenting such an overwhelming volume of work without any real narrative.
There remains no doubt, however, of the strange intensity, life and power of these works, and for that reason alone this exhibition is a(nother) must-see.Leave a Comment