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Freud imposed a strict routine on his sitters - even his daughters

Art in focus: The great realist’s work is on show in IMMA’s Freud Project

Lucian Freud, Bella and Esther, 1988, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 88.9 cm

What is it?

Lucian Freud’s (1922-2011) double portrait of two of his daughters, Bella (the designer) and Esther (the novelist), was painted during 1987 and completed in 1988. It forms part of IMMA’s Freud Project. While as an artist Freud has advocates and detractors, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest realist painters of the 20th century, and this exhibition convincingly demonstrates why that is so.

How was it done?

Freud had a famously slow, painstaking way of working. He imposed a strict routine on his sitters, including family, friends and others he decided he would like to paint. That routine entailed long, regular hours spent posing in his fairly spartan studio in London. The battered sofa on which Bella and Esther are reclining recurs from painting to painting, together with other aspects of the room. By the late 1980s, Freud was building up areas of dense, clotted paint, particularly evident in the heads, hands and feet in this painting. Earlier in his life he had used thinner glazes of colour.

He wasn’t noticeably interested in composition or other conventional pictorial concerns. Rather his paintings are about the sustained, concentrated observation of a subject. He painted one small section of the surface at a time, and was indifferent to disparities in proportion, colour and texture that developed. Hence his figures can appear poorly proportioned and even more awkward than they probably felt as they held fixed poses for months on end. Yet his ruthless precision in recording exactly what he saw as well as he could produced something exceptional, something that transcends the usual rules of painting. Not least when his subjects were unclothed: he became celebrated and notorious for capturing a sense of naked, animal presence, dispensing with the artistic decorum of “the nude.”

Where can I see it?

It is part of IMMA’s Freud Project, an ongoing, excellent exhibition of 30 of his paintings and 20 graphic works. To mark the first year of the five-year loan, the exhibition is free (normally €8, concessions €5) until Sunday, November 5th, after which fees will apply. Because capacity in the Garden Galleries is limited, timed ticketing applies and you can book on IMMA.ie.

Is it a typical work by the artist? It is

quite typical in that he was closely related to many of his subjects in one way or another. A grandson of Sigmund Freud, his Christian name derives from that of his mother, Lucie Brasch. The family fled Germany in 1933. Freud was a reckless gambler, immensely social and an obsessive worker. His complicated personal life encompassed marriages and a sustained sequence of overlapping relationships with women. He fathered at least 15 children with different partners, including Suzy Boyt, Katherine Margaret McAdam, Jacquetta Eliot, Celia Paul and Bernardine Coverley, the mother of Bella and Esther.