Lucian Freud: A Self Portrait review – picturing a titan of British art | Documentary films

The latest in the excellent Exhibition on Screen series is pinned to the current Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits show at the Royal Academy, which is due to end later this month. It’s really designed to fill in the gaps and provide context; a slightly purer form, perhaps, of the gallery film mini-genre we have got used to.

Self-Portrait, 2002, by Lucian Freud.
Self-Portrait, 2002, by Lucian Freud. Photograph: David Levene/the Guardian

Well, this film – with its subtly edited subtitle, A Self Portrait – is well up to standard: it takes us through Freud’s upbringing, education and early development as an artist, pointing out (naturally) his epic social life as well as his fervent dedication to painting. The film also takes advantage of interview material with the artist (who died in 2011) shot by his former assistant David Dawson, who also took the famous photograph of Freud painting a tiny picture of the Queen.

Freud’s early work, with its precise outlines and mysterious symbolism, is given its due, though of course most of the attention is devoted to his thickly painted later masterworks, which reflect the artist’s own piercing gaze. (There’s a fascinating section devoted to Freud’s habit of painting himself almost invisibly into his pictures, via shadows, or mirrors, or indeed other self-portraits, as barely noticeable props.) There’s the usual informed comment from curatorial talking heads, one or two of whom ended up sitting for Freud; and the comparisons to Rembrandt, advanced at some length, don’t seem entirely overblown.

If there’s a slight drawback, it’s that the remit of the format, which focuses on a single aspect of Freud’s work, ends up feeling a little narrow. There’s an unavoidable temptation to want to wander into areas not connected to self-portraiture. But there’s no harm in leaving the viewer wanting more.

•Lucian Freud: A Self Portrait is released in the UK on 14 January.

Source: The Guardian

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