How Great Was Lucian Freud, Really?

Lucian Freud, “Double Portrait” (1985–86), oil on canvas. Private collection (© The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022 / Bridgeman Images)

LONDON — My goodness, anniversaries do make things happen, publicity-wise! Lucian Freud was born 100 years ago (the actual date is December 8, 1922), and the galleries of London can’t seem to get enough of him this autumn and winter. Seven — lucky seven! — exhibitions are on exhibit. The largest of these is at the National Gallery, which is serving up a show that idles through many rooms, called New Perspectives. These are the very spaces that have in the recent past been occupied by some of the greatest Italian painters in the canon: Raphael, Veronese, Titian. Showing off 70 works by Freud invites comparison, inevitably. Is he up to it? Is he one of the great figurative painters not only of our day, but of any day?

Freud is being puffed by publishers, too. A lavish, illustrated edition of his letters (Love Lucian, the Letters of Lucian Freud, 1939–1954, published by Thames and Hudson in the UK) contains lots of reproductions of the letters exactly as he wrote them, in all their wildly misspelt rough-and-tumble. The newly released volume comes complete, for example, with a photomontage of a pair of kissy lips.

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