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oil painting of a woman.I consider Lucian Freud one of only a handful of great living painters, particularly of the human form. What I’ve always found interesting in his paintings is his technique. This is hard to appreciate when viewing the paintings in print form. You have to see the paintings, especially his nudes, in the flesh, so to speak. During my teaching, once the student moves onto paint and can start to handle it (here I’m talking about oil paint) I remind them constantly “let the paint do the work” . It’s not just a means to an end. I think the very substance, the paint, is a wonderful thing just to handle on the palette. The paint can have a life of its own: just consider the following ways you can use it – make it work for you! It can be applied thick, thin, directional (so that it helps to define the shape of the object). It can be applied wet, almost a wash, or neat, thick. However, I’m getting off the purpose of this little essay. If ever you get the chance to stand in front of a Lucian Freud painting, get close as you can and observe the individual brush marks. See how he uses the paint itself to make a statement. As an example, look at say, the mouth of the subject, and see exactly how he defines the shape. Most artists would work at depicting it as one sees it in a photograph – Freud doesn’t.

oil painting of nude study of a woman. He uses the paint. In close-up it looks abstract, in other words, un-photographic, and makes no sense. Only when one steps away from the painting does it become a mouth, coming together like a jig-saw puzzle. He uses thick-and-thin paint, directional brush work and colour and a shift in tonal values to create the illusion of a mouth. In short, the paint is doing the work.




painting of a nude woman

Left: Sue Tilley, or “Big Sue” as she was known. She worked for the Department of Health and Social Security. As can be seen from her painting, and Lucian did a number from her, she is a large lady. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Freud once said of her: “I have perhaps a predilection towards people of unusual or strange proportions, which I don’t want to over-indulge.” And nor does he. Most painters of nude, myself included, would love to paint Sue Tilley! All that flesh, the soft mounds, curves, muscle fat, large proportions. All this an artist looks for in painting. And then there are the elements of colour, tone, brush marking. This painting is typical of Freud’s approach to the nude. Nearly always the figure exists alone, in isolation – Yes, within his studio – but alone in the world. Anyone familiar with the paintings of Edward Hopper, (an American painter 1882-1967), will see what I mean. Yet this is often an interesting way to depict the nude. Remember, the nude figure is timeless. Often it’s only the context of the setting that gives us a clue as to when it was painted. So the subject of the painting is the human form, naked, often without relevance to the world around them.




William Feaver says of Freud in an article Lucian Freud: Life into Art: Painting for him (Freud), is an enlivening process. 'Making the paint do what you want it to do.' His paintings take on more than the look of whoever, or whatever. They are 'factual not literal'; actual facts, acutely realised. 'I don't want them to be sensational... but I want them to reveal some of the results of my concentration.' (Lucian Freud, by William Feaver, published by Tate).




oil painting of a nude man, leigh bowery.Right: Leigh Bowery. Lucian Freud once said that he likes people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet. Well, here’s an example. Bowery splayed out before us, glorifying in its nakedness. It’s unusual for Freud to work from a professional model, but this passage from William Feaver’s book explains it well: “Until Leigh Bowery came on the scene, Freud had rarely worked from professional models. Not that Bowery was a model exactly. He was a poser, a performer, whose every personal appearance in a club or concert involved outrageous body transformations in costumes of tackily surreal splendour. Freud spotted him first outside Olympia. ‘He was walking by a queue I was standing in. I noticed his legs and his feet: he was wearing clogs and his calves went right down to his feet, almost avoiding the whole business of ankles altogether’.” (William Feaver. Book title: Lucian Freud, published by Tate 2002). This is often how a painter of nudes views a promising subject. It’s rarely because of someone’s good looks – often these can appear sterile in a painting – What an artist seeks is an interesting face, something with character that an artist can explore by using paint. Bowery sat for Lucian on a regular basis for several years. As we can see from the painting, Bowery was a big man, 16 stones, but again what a wonderful figure to work from. Unfortunately Leigh Bowery had contracted AIDS and died in 1994.

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Titian's nude paintings    |    Walter Sickert's nude paintings    |    Renoir's nude paintings    |   John Singer Sargent's paintings    |    Edouard Manet's nude paintings