A NEW biography of the
painter Lucian Freud, by Geordie Greig, is due out next week.
Extracts have already been published in the press, highlighting his
voracious sexual appetite and his appalling relationships with his
children - of whom there are thought to be up to 40, by different
Freud was undeniably a
great and gifted painter. What he is best known for is his
relentless exposure of the human body in terms of flesh. His heads,
nudes, and animals are a revelation of the fleshiness of flesh;
highly and variably coloured, they are bruised, made brilliant, and
exposed as though by life itself.
His relationship with his
models was intense, protracted, and sometimes passionate; what
ended up on the canvas was a metaphor for his possession of them,
his utter determination to penetrate them to the core, and render
them up as he had come to see them.
The fashion model Kate
Moss once posed for him, as did one of his daughters, but many of
his sitters were anonymous. Freud was a guilt-free zone in relation
to women. He does not seem to have seen women really as people.
Women would slip silently into his studio while he was painting,
and wait in the bathroom. He would take a break, leaving the person
he was painting for a few minutes, while he had sex with them.
Freud's concern to reduce
humanity to coloured flesh was as intense as his grandfather
Sigmund's concern to dissect humanity in terms of conflicting
psychological impulses. Both shared a reductionist instinct that is
ultimately inimical to any account of human beings as related to a
Sigmund, at least, was
humane, even lovable. His compassion for his patients contradicted
his bleak assessment of the human condition. But the truth that
Lucian saw in his subjects was a truth that found little place for
love. They sprawl - frail flesh, at the mercy of the painter. They
disturb because they have no voice, no interior life, no
relationship other than that with the artist.
Looking back to the
portraits, I realise that what I see (what I am meant to see?) is
humanity without a trace of God. Yet, as a believer, I cannot leave
the matter there. Lucian Freud was a genius in his wayward way, and
his legacy is to show us what it might mean to be damned: to be
exposed as nothing but flesh, to eyes that see nothing but flesh.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.