Curling Up

Gift guide

Curling Up

Lucian Freud: 1996-2005

Knopf, 180 pp., $75

Lucian Freud, considered by many to be the greatest realist painter alive today, once said that he left the painting of faces till last, because "the head must be just another limb." Out of context, this oft-quoted line would support what some believe of Freud, whose nudes seem more naked than most: that his paintings are "brutally" real, unsentimentally depicting the individual alienation and objectification of the modern age. It's not a completely unfounded interpretation, as the figures in Freud's paintings are often sleeping or seem mentally elsewhere, their eyes downcast or averted and limbs splayed like discarded dolls. Upon closer investigation, however, Freud's portraits are some of the most humane and intimate around today. The rest of the above quote, wherein Freud says he wants "the expression to be in the body," points to the fact that although Freud's oeuvre is undoubtedly modern, his ethic isn't necessarily. The subjects of the portraits in Lucian Freud: 1996-2005, a compendium of his recent work, come in all varieties of age, size, and aesthetic appeal, and Freud pays equal attention to each, meticulously translating the whole of his subjects' presence, flaws included, into paintings that are beautiful for their honesty. The work brings to mind something Walt Whitman wrote: "The love of the Body of man or woman balks account – the body itself balks account/That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect." Freud is painting the body electric in all its forms, and this book represents that endeavor well.

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