British figurative painter Lucian Freud has died. His dealer, William R. Acquavella, confirmed the late artist died Wednesday evening following an illness. Acquavella described Freud as “as one of the great painters of the twentieth Century…He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world.”
Although abstraction was the dominant trend in the art world, Freud remained committed to figurative painting. He is best known for his realist style, thick brushstrokes and intimate subject matter, which frequently included family and friends. His nude works, although Freud preferred the term “naked,” are among his most famous, including a portrait he did of a pregnant, nude Kate Moss called Naked Kate 2002. He has painted a wide variety of sitters including Francis Bacon, Jerry Hall and even the Queen.
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Prominent members of the art world were quick to emphasize the importance of Freud’s work. The Telegraph quotes Nicolas Serota, Director of the Tate,
“The vitality of his nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late twentieth century art…His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.”
Art critic Robert Hughes, a champion of Freud’s work, declared the artist “a genuine national treasure.”
Freud had a long career and continued painting up until his death. He was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to London with his family in 1931. He was the son of architect Ernst Freud and the grandson of famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Early in his art career, Freud focused on drawing; he found success quickly and had his first solo show at age 21. After World War II, during which he served as a British Naval officer, Freud switched his attention to painting, which would dominate the rest of his career. During the 1950s, he taught at Slade School of Fine Art, and he was a member of the Order of Merit, a prestigious honor given by the Queen for achievements in arts, culture, science and literature.
Freud, whose first retrospective exhibition was held at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1974, was a prominent figure for most of his later life, but his fame began to skyrocket after a Tate retrospective in 2002. His sales climbed consistently over the next several years and culminated in 2008, with the $33.6 million sale of his "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. This remains the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist, an honor Freud inherited from Jeff Koons.
Freud's sales slowed dramatically under the economic conditions the end of the decade, but an Artprice analysis attributed the stagnation to the unavailabilty of his works. Freud had become such a fixture of major art auctions that collectors may have feared selling his works at a loss. Freud's momentum began to pick up with a major retrospective at Paris' Centre Pompidou in 2010, and this year his "Woman Smiling" realized £4,745,250 during a series of auctions Art Market Monitor called "Christie's Summer of Freud."
He is survived by his brother Stephan Gabriel Freud and an unknown number of children, whom he had with his first wife, Kitty Garman, and various romantic relationships thereafter. The Telegraph quotes his sister-in-law Ann, who stated that she and her husband Stephen found out about his death via reports on television and that, “he wouldn't keep a telephone so no one could phone him directly.” Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.