Elucidating Lucian

19th February 2012

So why is Randall Wright’s 90-minute documentary Lucian Freud: Painted Life (on iPlayer until 25 February) the BBC’s best film about a visual artist for many a year? The compelling subject helps of course, as do the remarkable and mysterious paintings. Many of the interviewees speak movingly about their complex relationships with the late painter. The thoughtful script is honest about its subject’s private lives, but this never pitches over into prurience. (Randall Wright discusses the filming in an interesting BBC blog post here.) There is also an intelligence about the way the Freud’s paintings and drawings are used, as well as the relatively few (but almost all exceptional) photographs that exist of the artist. (Astonishing home movie footage features Lucian with his grandfather Sigmund.) Many of the artworks (and the photographs) are returned to, sometimes several times, and on each occasion we are prompted to see something fresh. And all of this – the people and the paintings – comes across so much more powerfully and so much more openly because the film, driven by a sensitive narration and the smart use of on-screen quotes from Freud, is focussed on its subject and not (as @AnnaBrk pointed out on Twitter) on the antics of an on-screen presenter. Bravo.


  1. Paul Tickell says:

    I haven’t seen the film which sounds like it’s very well made while aligning itself with the incredible barrage of praise which has intensified around Freud over the last 15 to 20 years. Is it all because he’s a painter who, more or less untouched by all that is radical and innovative in 20c art, chimes perfectly with the current conservative and timid cultural climate?

    On a more personal note his dun-dreary aesthetic – the Euston Rd School cloaca re-painted by a Rembrandt-Soutine pasticheur – leaves me cold though interest is spiced by the devil’s prattle which surrounds the work: the endless twittering about friends old and new, and the lovers and boho celebs who populate the Freud canvas.

    The film sounds like it avoids the gossipy spice but I can’t help but think of another ‘playboy’ of high artistic seriousness and utterly conventional aesthetics when I hear the name Lucian: Augustus John. Will Freud leave a similar mark on art history – a goatish imprint, a mere footnote?

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