Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lucian Freud, Landscape with Birds

Lucian Freud, Landscape with Birds, 1940
12.7 x 15.5 in.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011) was a major British painter.  Born in Germany, he was the grandson of Sigmund Freud.   The family moved to London in 1933 to escape Nazism.  Lucian Freud studied at the Central School of Art and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing.  He is known for his portraits and figure paintings.  His work demonstrates an unflinching psychological realism and intensity that can border on grotesque.  Often incorporating elements of the Surreal, his work explores the relationship of subject and surroundings, as well as the relationship of artist and model.  A lot of Freud's work does not speak to me, but I find Landscape with Birds quite interesting.  This very early piece, painted when Freud was only eighteen, has an odd playfulness to it, perhaps because of the multi-colored brick wall or the crude rendering of the birds. However, the painting definitely has an unsettling quality, as though we can tell there is something not right about the world depicted.  The trees are bare, despite the presence of flowers, and the proportions of the boys are rather unusual.  Their arms and legs extend from their bodies in a lengthened, disjointed way.  The clouds resemble snowcapped mountains, giving them a weighty presence, an illusion enhanced by the boy jumping who appears to be standing on the clouds. Meanwhile, the ground is indistinct, and grass merges water, rendered in much the same way. Indeed we can only be sure that the area in the foreground is a lake when we realize that the second boy is sitting in a flattened boat.  This painting is very successful, for the unsettling qualities are clearly deliberate.  We can see Freud testing out his techniques in this small landscape and exploring his own relationship to his subjects and surroundings.

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