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The skin we live in

Lucian Freud dismantled the established conventions of portrait painting

By Sebastian Smee   February 2012

“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995)

Lucian Freud Portraits National Portrait Gallery, 9th February-27th May, Tel: 0844 248 5033

A parent on bedside watch might have had the notion. A certain kind of photographer, too—the kind obsessed, for instance, by isolated fragments and strange magnifications. But among established portrait painters, the idea that the soles of a woman’s feet might testify to her person as eloquently and forcefully as her face feels unique to Lucian Freud.

The picture I’m thinking of is “Annabel Sleeping,” a portrait Freud made of one of his grown daughters in the late 1980s. It shows a woman,…

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