Painter Lucian Freud Dies At 88

Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund, also explored the human psyche — through human physicality. His paintings were never called "nudes" — that's too polite. His subjects were "naked" — both physically and emotionally. His work divided critics and made him one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

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Lucian Freud, one of the most celebrated and criticized painters of the 20th century has died. Once called the greatest living realist painter by art critic Robert Hughes, Freud was known for intense portraits that revealed a love of the human body, down to its most unflattering details.

NPR's Sami Yenigun has this remembrance.

SAMI YENIGUN: Lucian Freud once said: I want paint to work as flesh. Where his grandfather, Sigmund Freud, was interested in the human mind, Lucian Freud was interested in what a person's body said about them.

Ms. ANDREA ROSE (Director, Visual Arts, British Council): I think he was incredibly interested in people. But he wasn't interested in airbrushing. He really wanted to see what made people tick.

YENIGUN: Andrea Rose is the director of Visual Arts for the British Council. In 1987, she curated a touring exhibition of Freud's work. At the time, the painter was well-known in Europe but many U.S. museums weren't interested. This exhibition change that.

Ms. ROSE: It changed the mood a knot, because I think it demonstrated you didn't have to be of this conceptual abstract mainstream; that they were other routes that painting or art could take.

YENIGUN: Lucian Freud never used professional models. Friends and acquaintances agreed to pose in often unflattering ways.

William Aquavella, who became Freud's art dealer in 1993, says this resulted in honest, human portraits that are impossible to ignore.

Mr. WILLIAM AQUAVELLA (Art Dealer, Aquavella Gallery): A normal portrait can be a pretty sedate thing; you can walk right by it. You can't walk by one of his portraits.

YENIGUN: Freud never use the word nude to describe his subjects. Valerie Fletcher, senior curator at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., explains why.

Dr. VALERIE FLETCHER (Senior Curator, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden): Nude is always used to refer to the body as something that's ideal, possibly allegorical or symbolic. Naked means they're real with there close off.

YENIGUN: Fletcher says this distinction is vital to understanding the impact Lucian Freud had on the art world.

Dr. FLETCHER: You know how often people have said over the last hundred years painting is dead? Well, all you need is one Lucian Freud every other generation and it shows you painting is not over yet.

YENIGUN: Painter Lucian Freud died Wednesday night after a brief illness. He was 88 years old.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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