Realist painter Lucian Freud dies at 88

LONDON (AP) - Lucian Freud, a towering and uncompromising figure in the art world for more than 50 years, has died, his New York-based art dealer said Thursday. He was 88.

Spokeswoman Bettina Prentice said that Freud died after an illness at his London home late Wednesday night, but didn’t give any further details.

Freud was known for his intense realist portraits, particularly of nudes. In recent years his paintings commanded staggering prices at auction, including one of an overweight nude woman sleeping on a couch that sold in 2008 for $33.6 million.

William R. Acquavella, his dealer, said in a statement that he would mourn Freud “as one of the great painters of the twentieth century.”

“He lived to paint and painted until the day he died, far removed from the noise of the art world,” he said.

Freud stubbornly refused to follow the trends of that world, insisting on using his realist approach even when it was out of favor with critics and collectors. He developed his own unique style, eventually winning recognition as one of the world’s greatest painters.

“He certainly is considered one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of the postwar art department at Christie’s auction house in New York. “He stayed with his figurative approach even when it was extremely unpopular, when abstraction was the leading concept, and as time moved on his classic approach has proven to be very important. He fought the system and basically won.”

He said Freud remained totally dedicated to his work, overcoming all obstacles and painting long hours every day well into his late 80s in a sustained bid to complete his life’s work before death overtook him.

“He lived and breathed his art,” said Gorvy. “For someone who was so successful, he was extraordinarily regulated in his day, with three main sittings a day and some at night. He worked each and every day to this very tough regime. He was very aware of his own mortality and he knew his time was very, very precious.”

Freud was the grandson of Sigmund Freud, a leading pioneer of modern psychoanalysis. He was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to London with his parents Ernst and Lucie Freud in 1933 after Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in Germany.

He was naturalized as a British subject six years later and spent almost his entire working life based in London, where he was often seen at fashionable restaurants, sometimes with beautiful younger women, including the fashion model Kate Moss, whom he painted nude, and other luminaries.

He was at the height of his fame in the last decades of his life, when he still continued to paint for long hours at his studio in London’s exclusive Holland Park. He was even named one of Britain’s best dressed men by the fashion magazine GQ when he was well into his ninth decade.

But there was little beautiful or sexy in Freud’s nude portraits, which did not gloss over a subject’s flaws. The intimate detail of his paintings sometimes left viewers uncomfortable.

“He has certainly divided critics,” said Starr Figura, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “The ones who don’t appreciate him find his work hard to look at and a bit out of step with what is going on in the rest of the world. They have a hard time categorizing it.”

She said Freud’s work can be unsettling.

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