Illustrated companion

Since the end of the Second World War, Lucian Freud has been the practitioner of a consistent realism based on working directly from the model. Yet his paintings also have an intensely personal character, an atmosphere of psychological revelation and force that goes far beyond the simple rendering of the presence of the model. (With Sigmund Freud as his grandfather, this aspect of his talent may not be surprising.) His paintings make statements about human existence, and also, perhaps incidentally, about the nature of painting and the business of being a painter; it is that, as much as any other ingredient, that makes them such extraordinary and compelling art.

Freud's career has so far fallen into two quite distinct parts. Up to about 1958 he worked in the smooth tightly focused manner exemplified in this picture. After that his handling of paint became much freer and the slight stylisations that can be detected in, for example, the treatment of the eyes and mouth of the model in 'Girl with a White Dog' disappear. A major work of his later phase is 'Standing by the Rags' [Tate Gallery T05722]. Freud's early style has roots in the smooth and linear portraiture of the great nineteenth-century French neoclassicist, Ingres. This, together with the particular psychological atmosphere of Freud's early work led the critic Herbert Read to make his celebrated remark that Freud was 'the Ingres of Existentialism'. This sense that Freud gives of human existence as essentially lonely, and spiritually if not physically painful, is something shared by his great contemporaries, Francis Bacon and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. These artists represented a view of life that was seen as highly relevant in the atmosphere of post-war Europe and which found a theoretical philosophical expression in the Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre.

The model for this and a number of other major early works by Freud was his first wife Kitty Garman, daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein and his second wife Kathleen Garman. A bronze portrait bust of Kathleen Garman, begun by Epstein the day after he met her in 1921, is in the Tate Gallery collection [N06089].

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.189