While Lucian Freud’s international reputation as a master of portraiture remains undisputed, his ability to capture the elusive essence of plants is mostly unacknowledged. Leaves, branches, and blooms were among the artist’s favorite subjects throughout his formative years. The linear neatness of his early works deliberately flirted with surrealist effects and symbolic references. But his later paintings of plants searched for something deeper and much more original.
The artist wasn’t interested in the beautiful and rare varieties we see in botanical illustration. Instead, he painted weeds, garden shrubs, and the straggly potted plants in his home. And in every instance, he never felt compelled to perfect or beautify his botanical subject. Instead, Freud layered the canvas to unveil a kind of painterly-existentialist truth he saw in his plants—something that can only be revealed through painting when brushstrokes dare to speak where language fails.
Giovanni Aloi, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago