Lucian Freud did not live to see the first exhibition of his paintings in Vienna, the city his grandfather Sigmund fled in 1938, but he helped plan the retrospective that opens this week.
Freud, considered the greatest British painter of his generation, moved with his family from Berlin to London in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism. Four of his great-aunts were killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
“Vienna was never home for him and it could never be home for him,” curator Jasper Sharp said. “I don’t want to go so far as to say it was a healing or the closing of a circle for him, but a ghost was somehow laid to rest.”
After refusing numerous invitations from German and Austrian galleries for decades, the German-born British figurative artist agreed to the show and helped select the 43 works on display because of his love of the artistic company in which they would be seen.
“He has done this exhibition because of the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum first and foremost,” said Sharp, a friend and neighbour from childhood of the Jewish artist who died in 2011 aged 88.
The museum houses the Habsburg royal family’s extensive collections of artists including Titian, Velazquez andRembrandt who inspired Freud, a keen museum-goer who said visiting art galleries was as curative for him as trips to the doctor.
Lucian Freud, a painter considered by many critics to be the leading British artist before his death in 2011, at age 88, was also an art collector, owning works by 19th-century artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Edgar Degas. Now, Freud’s heirs are donating some of his collection to British museums — partly as a gesture of thanks, and partly as a way to pay a hefty inheritance tax.
According to the BBC, Corot’s “L’ Italienne ou La Femme á la Manche Jaune” (“The Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve”), which was purchased by Freud from actor Edward G. Robinson and has not been seen by the public for 60 years, will go to the National Gallery, while three bronze Degas sculptures — “Horse Galloping on Right Foot,” “The Masseuse” and “Portrait of a Woman: Head Resting on One Hand” — will go to The Courtauld Gallery.
The BBC also reported that the donations were specified by Freud in his will. According to the U.K.’s “acceptance in lieu” law, works of “major cultural significance” may be donated in place of an inheritance tax. For Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud who came to England from Berlin as a refugee in 1933, the donation is also seen as a gesture of thanks to his adopted country.
In 1993, Lucian Freud, the painter known for his sharp psychological portraits of friends and family often sprawled nude in his studio, painted his own portrait. “Now the very least I can do is paint myself naked,” the artist said. Called “Painter Working, Reflection,” the work shows the artist, then 71, facing the viewer with a brush in one hand and a palette in the other. He is naked — starkly so — and his head slouches towards the ground, flesh sagging over his frame. The paint looks dry and flaky, creating the impression that Freud’s entire body is on the verge of crumbling into dust.
Perhaps it is fitting to remember this painting in the wake of Freud’s death on July 20. At 88, Freud, famous for his proudly reclusive ways (the artist did not possess a phone and his studio had no doorbell, but he had his own table at the uber-chic Wolseley restaurant in London where he dined several times a week), passed away in his home. He leaves a legacy of many children (one British paper estimates 30-plus), many more lovers, and many, many more paintings that are remembered as some of the most bewitching and valuable of his time. In 2008, the artist sold a portrait of an obese nude woman sleeping on a couch for $33.6 million, setting the world record for a work by a living artist.
In April, 2010, when the Israeli artist Avigdor Arikha (born Dlugacz in Romania) died at age 81, he was praised for his sensitive figurative art, as well as his heroic life story. In 1941, after Arikha’s family was deported to Romanian-run concentration camps, his drawings of deportation scenes, shown to International Red Cross representatives, won freedom for himself and his sister. By 1944 they had reached Palestine, where he lived on Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha in the Judean Hills, before relocating definitively in 1954 to Paris.
There he met, among other arts colleagues, Samuel Beckett, and in 2005, Arikha’s widow Anne Atik published an affectionate account of their friendship, “How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett” from Counterpoint Press. Further understanding of Arikha’s artistic milieu and goals appeared on January 18, when Les Éditions Hermann published “Painting and Looking: Writings on Art, 1965-2009” (Peinture et regard. Écrits sur l’art, 1965-2009) an augmented version of a 1991 Arikha book from the same publisher.