Lucian Freud

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Lucian Freud

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


What Freud's picture of Queen Elizabeth really is is a head study, not a portrait. The real subject of a portrait is the personality of the sitter, which is what comes through when he or she is engaged in conversation and the mind is active, the features animated. Freud shows what happens to someone's face when bored and uncomfortable from the unnatural situation of having to hold still for too long. That is a head study, an exercise in observation of surfaces only. It's an exercise for students, to help them learn more about faces, and it is imperative in those situations that the model sit motionless, because the students will not have the ability developed yet to be able to work from a subject that moves, or to read the personality, to manipulate the features to indicate subtleties such as intelligence, a sense of humor, graciousness, wit, charm, etc., which give life and individuality to a portrait. What is significant about the subject, his or her best and most outstanding attributes, character traits, are essential elements not to be overlooked in good portraiture. These are not apparent when one is forced to sit still. The face registers discomfort, the mouth droops lower, the eyebrows' positions change, the cheek muscles slacken, the eyes tend to lose focus, etc., and none of this particularly interesting to look at, nor is it indicative of the personality, the essential character, of the subject. If the painter does not understand how these things work, well enough to alter them to read more like the person normally looks, he is not really a very good portrait painter, but at best a competent recorder of surfaces. There is a lot more to good portraiture than that. There has to be.

Virgil