LUCIAN FREUD by Phoebe Hoban


Eyes Wide Open
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A breezy biography of the celebrated British painter.

Since Lucian Freud’s (1922–2011) place in the contemporary pantheon has long seemed secure, it’s surprising that this is the first biography of him—at least until readers get to the acknowledgments, which refer to Freud as “a notoriously difficult subject to write about” with “an extreme penchant for privacy” that “discouraged all biographers in his lifetime.” Since his death, his “immediate circle has remained for the most part closemouthed.” The result is this work that feels more like a primer than the definitive last word on his subject. As traced by Hoban (Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, 2010, etc.), his life is plainly as fascinating as his art and deeply interwoven within it. As the grandson of Sigmund Freud, and the father of at least 14 children, the “hyperactively heterosexual” artist was “fundamentally incapable of romantic fidelity,” and his scandals included sleeping with many of his models and painting his children in the nude (which seemed to be his major relationship with many of them). Yet his most important relationship was with fellow artist and inspiration Francis Bacon, whose “influence would ultimately push Freud’s painting in a pivotal new dimension, from flat and linear to fully fleshed out.” Yet as central as Bacon was to Freud’s life and art, Hoban never determines whether they had a sexual relationship (as many who know both assumed) or why the two men who shared such a “strong affinity” would ultimately have such a bitter falling out. Throughout, the author mixes whatever revelations she can glean from his personal life with paragraph descriptions of dozens of his paintings. He once remarked that he expected great art to “astonish, disturb, seduce and convince,” and he fulfilled all with art that often seemed more intimate to him than a sexual relationship yet that for viewers, could have “an aura of taxidermy.”

A first step toward a biographical understanding of a provocative, complex artist.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-544-11459-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Amazon Publishing/New Harvest
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2014


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