Lucian Freud review: No amount of familiarity can make Freud boring 

The majority of the 50 works on view are from the Tate collection but no amount of familiarity can ever make Lucian Freud’s paintings boring

Lucian Freud: Real Lives 

Tate Liverpool                                                                                        Until January 16

Rating:

If people know two things about Lucian Freud, it’s (a) that he was an excellent artist, and (b) that he had rather an unsavoury private life.

He had almost as many wives, mistresses and children as he did paintbrushes – none of whom he treated well. The result was a large number of damaged individuals, but at the same time a host of fascinating subjects for his portraiture.

A new exhibition at Tate Liverpool duly focuses on the artist’s pictures of major figures in his life. In Girl With A Kitten (1947), Freud’s first wife, Kitty, stares out of the painting with wide-eyed apprehension. 

If people know two things about Lucian Freud, it’s (a) that he was an excellent artist, and (b) that he had rather an unsavoury private life (above, Girl With A White Dog (1950-51))

If people know two things about Lucian Freud, it’s (a) that he was an excellent artist, and (b) that he had rather an unsavoury private life (above, Girl With A White Dog (1950-51))

She refuses to meet our gaze. Her troubled psychological state is confirmed by the way she holds the titular kitten: gripping it so tightly around the neck that it’s almost being strangled.

In Girl In A Striped Nightshirt (1983-5), meanwhile, the sixtysomething Freud depicted his twentysomething lover, Celia Paul, lying in bed. The disconnect between the pair is clear: she’d rather look at the mattress than at him, and her nightshirt is buttoned up right to the very top.

The majority of the 50 works on view are from the Tate collection, so will be familiar to many visitors. No amount of familiarity can ever make Freud’s paintings boring, though. 

His scrutiny of his sitters always compels. What’s more, the paintings are mixed up with a handful of lesser-known works: etchings (by Freud) and photographs (of him).

One photo, in particular, reveals an unusual side to the artist: it shows him doing a playful headstand on a bed, beside his amused daughter, Bella.

Maybe there was more joy in Freud’s familial life than what his art – and reputation – would have us believe.