Lucian Freud dismantled the established conventions of portrait paintingby Sebastian Smee / January 25, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
“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, lying asleep on a bed, wearing a sky-blue dressing gown.
What makes it unusual, as a portrait, (and Freud thought of almost all of his pictures of people—and animals, too—as portraits) is that the subject is completely turned away from us. Not only are we not shown her face, we can’t even see the shape of her head. The closest we get is a spray of unkempt dark brown hair emerging from behind foetally hunched shoulders. The only parts of her body that are actually exposed are her ankles, her toes, and soles of her feet.