Lucian Freud’s realist portraits of figures from Kate Moss to the Queen will be familiar to many. Less so, perhaps, are a pen and ink drawing of Loch Ness from Drumnadrochit (1943), or views of the back of residential London streets (Wasteground with Houses, Paddington, 1970-2). Virginia Button’s new critical survey of Freud’s life and work profitably sidesteps the more immediately recognisable of his paintings in favour of a broadly chronological approach, which serves to contextualise his later work.
The book may be best as an introduction to Freud – though comprehensive in its scope, it engages with bigger issues and questions that certainly warrant further reading. Button acknowledges early on, for example, feminist critiques of Freud’s work, and seeks to explain his approach, whilst remaining critical throughout. Her attention to his gaze runs throughout the book, and is a useful lens through which to consider his work.
Beautifully produced, with a range of colour images, some of which may well be new to readers, this is a valuable – and good value – addition to Tate’s British Artists series.
Originally published in Aesthetica.