August 6, 2022
  • August 6, 2022

a tiny but deliciously domestic show

By on July 6, 2022 0

There’s an irony in the Freud Museum’s tiny but deliciously domestic new exhibit: Lucian Freud spent his life rejecting various loved ones, as he tried to get away from a family he considered ‘boring’. Indeed, one of the exhibition’s starting points, an early drawing belonging to the museum of a palm tree with yellowed leaves, rendered with characteristic meticulousness as if it had been studied by Freud with the intensity of a jeweler inspecting a gemstone with a magnifying glass, once owned by a relative, Anna, whom he dismissed as his “awful aunt”

He did, however, always love his “living” paternal grandfather, Sigmund, whose house at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, where the founder of psychoanalysis settled after fleeing Vienna in 1938, is now a museum. It therefore seems fitting that the finest moment of the exhibition takes place in Sigmund’s office, where a massive painting from a private collection, approximately 3 square feet, of the artist’s mother, Lucie, hangs. directly above his grandfather’s famous sofa, like the manifestation of an invisible unconscious of the patient.

Dressed in a paisley-patterned dress, Lucie reclines horizontally across the composition, on a rosy beige blanket atop a cast-iron bed in her son’s studio in Holland Park. By placing this image here, the curator of the exhibition, Martin Gayford, suggests an affinity between the painter’s modus operandi and that of his grandfather: both spent their days scrutinizing people lying down.

Of course, given the setting, its subject matter is also brilliantly appropriate. (Sigmund, I suspect, would have had something to say about the position of this canvas above his couch.) The second of three boys, Lucian was his mother’s favorite, but he felt smothered by her in her childhood and spent much of her adult life resisting her – until the death of her father, Ernst, in 1970, when, in his state of mourning and withdrawal, he decided he could bear her and invited her to sit down for him. He ended up depicting her more frequently than any other individual and even drawing her on her deathbed.

In the painting in the Freud Museum, Lucie’s lowered eyes and her strange, passive pose, both evocative of boredom, no doubt make her look like a sculpture on a grave. Nearby, one of the many antiquities collected by Sigmund, a painted plaster mask of an Egyptian mummy, hints at the work’s subliminal and deadly quality.