LONDON — Realist painter Lucian Freud, grandson of the inventor of modern psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and widely seen as Britain’s top contemporary artist, has died in London aged 88, his lawyer said Thursday.
Freud was known for his signature nudes and self-portraits such as the powerful 1993 work of himself as a naked older man waving his brush like a weapon.
In recent years his paintings have sold for astronomical sums. His 1995 Portrait “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” fetched 33.6 million dollars at a Christie’s auction in New York.
A statement released by his lawyer Diana Rawstron said the artist “died peacefully last night (Wednesday) at his home in London”.
His New York gallery, Acquavella Galleries, said Freud died after a brief illness at his home in Notting Hill.
“In company he was exciting, humble, warm and witty. He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world,” said William Acquavella.
Born to architect Ernst Freud, Sigmund’s youngest son, in Berlin in 1922, Lucian moved to England with his family aged 10 to escape Nazism and became a British citizen in 1933.
Freud, once described by art critic Robert Hughes as the greatest living realist painter, studied at London’s Central School of Art and Goldsmiths College, but his career was interrupted when he served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941.
After an early flirtation with surrealism, Freud turned to portrait painting, particularly nudes, in the 1950s.
His 2001 portrait of the queen under a heavy crown was dismissed by many of her fans as “ugly” and decried as “a travesty” by The Sun newspaper. The queen herself made no comment.
“I paint people,” Freud once said. “Not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”
Art critic and presenter Tim Marlow called Freud was a “very special man”.
“He looked at the world was as if he was painting it but when you saw his paintings you saw how he really saw at it,” he said Thursday.
“He was the sort of person who had a twinkle in his eye but he would also look at you in a daunting and scrutinising way.
“He was very funny and very dry. He never lost his sharpness.”
The painter was notorious for subjecting his models to sittings lasting up to a year, and the intense relationship struck up between artist and subject provided the creative force for many of his works.
Nicholas Serota, director of London’s Tate art gallery, said: “The vitality of his nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th century art.
“His early paintings redefined British art and his later works stand comparison with the great figurative painters of any period.”