The work of Lucian Freud, the British artist born in Berlin, grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, has always drunk deeply from the tension that exists between reality and matter, between the visual and the tactile. Ever since his first paintings back in the '40's that revealed the artist's primitivistic minuciosity combined with a dash of a Neo-romantic and surreal air, Freud opted for figurative art in opposition to the dominant abstract currents reigning at the time. Furthermore, his obsession for the human body led him to make an original reinterpretation of the portrait genre.
In his numerous self-portraits, the artist always appears with a forced posture, either squinting his eyes shut or looking out of the corner of his eyes or downwards, with a look evidencing the effort required to paint himself using a mirror. In fact, Freud painted Reflection with two children (Self-portrait) in 1965 by looking down at his own reflection in a mirror at his feet. This accounts for the extreme fore-shortening of his figure and the semi-abstract ceiling light hanging just above his left shoulder.
The entire composition is but a specular reflection further enhanced by the plain grey background that makes the light reflected off the artist's face and hands appear even brighter. The figure of the artist is not clearly appreciated at first glance, since the painting is one of the first self-portraits in which Freud experimented by painting his reflection in a double mirror. The observer is therefore forced to follow the lines of the figure upwards with his eyes in order to stare into the artist's gaze.
The figures of his two small children, Rose and Ali, who appear in the lower left corner of the painting and who were born of his relationship with Suzy Boyt, are inspired by an illustration on the tomb of Seneb, the Dwarf, and his family that belongs to The Cairo Museum. This particular illustration appeared in Geschichte Aegyptens, the manual of Egyptian art written by J.H. Breasted, a copy of which was the artist's indispensable companion during his entire career as a painter.
Freud's pictorial technique using great, expressive brushstrokes is reminiscent of the self-portraits of Frans Hals, whom Freud considered a modern artist on account of his distinctive brushwork. Freud, who William Feaver, not in a casual way, referred to as "the Hals of Paddington predisposed towards spontaneity", shares the way in which the Dutch Master firmly and directly applied his loose brushstrokes using a stiff-bristled brush soaked in paint to emphasise the action of the artist in the crystallisation of the model on the canvas.
Text: Paloma Alarcó
Curatorr of Modern Painting, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.
Lucian Freud (Berlin, 1922)
Reflection with two children (Self-portrait), 1965
Oil on canvas, 91 x 91 cm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid