A meander around the current Lucian Freud (1922-2011) exhibition at London‚Äôs National Portrait Gallery is like a networking event; it’s slightly chaotic, everyone is moving in different directions and then there are the faces, so many – how will you ever remember them all?

I say this because you don’t merely look at a Freud portrait, you are introduced and invited to exchange some kind of unspoken conversation, and you move on feeling like you no know the person in the picture just a little bit.

The realist paintings provide a ‘warts and all’ account of his sitters; nowhere are they beautified, stylised or romanticised, and while some might find this slightly unsettling (one lady was overheard exclaiming “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….incredibly depressing”) they are in fact wonderfully human.

Naked Portrait, 1972-3 Tate: Purchased 1975 © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive

 

Private Collection (c) The Lucian Freud Archive

Not only are the paintings physical portraits, but a narrative exploration into the individual. Pause long enough at each portrait and you feel like you know the subject as well as if you’d sat next to them all night at dinner.Captured in that moment of blissful detachment, when the sitter is completely lost to their own thoughts, Freud gives us both a snapshot and a lifetime in one scene.

Some might see his works as unforgiving in their documentary nature, particularly the images that chart his mother’s decline, however closer inspection reveals painted surfaces laden with sentiment, curiosity and perception.

The importance of Freud’s work cannot be overstated, and his contribution to British and international art will be sorely missed.

Lucian Freud Portraits is on at the National Portrait Gallery until 27 May 2012.

By Anika Heale

Girl in a Dark Jacket, 1947 Private Collection © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive

 

Girl in a Dark Jacket, 1947Girl with a White Dog, 1950-1 Tate: Purchased 1952 © Tate, London 2012

Girl with a White Dog, 1950-1

Man with a Feather (Self-portrait), 1943 Private Collection © The Lucian Freud Archive. Photo: Courtesy Lucian Freud Archive

Private Collection (c) The Lucian Freud Archive