Lucian Freud was a British painter and draftsman who became known as one of the foremost portrait artists of the 20th century. His most accomplished works include Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, Benefits Supervisor Resting and The Brigadier. While Freud was best known for his identifiable figure style, he also did several tattoos, including one on Kate Moss’ lower back.
Lucian Freud emerged in the London art scene in his 20s but did not master his signature style until nearly two decades later. His art echoed Picasso and Balthus through the 1940s and 1950s before developing its own identity, which still resonates today.
His portrait styled art became so valuable, it broke records. In 2008, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold at Christie’s New York for $33.6 million, surpassing the record price at the time for any living artist. A spinoff created by Freud of the same subject, Benefits Supervisor Resting, sold for $56 million in 2015.
Director of the Lucian Freud Archive, David Dawson, said “The early work has been shown, but in America, it’s mostly the later works that he was really known for.”
The shift to modernism was inspired by an introduction to painter Francis Bacon. Dawson says, “Bacon taught him how to be a contemporary artist. Bacon had that amazing ability to explain how everything is loaded onto one brush stroke, and I think that sunk in to Lucian.” By the 90s, Freud had modified his style.
Freud painted about eight paintings a year. However, according to Dawson, if a painting was not to his liking, Freud would attempt to buy the painting back and later destroy it.
Kate Moss and Lucian Freud were good friends, so close she was actually a canvas for the artist when he tattooed two birds on her lower back. Kate Moss, already one of the world’s highest paid supermodels, instantly added millions in value to her body.
Kate Moss told Vanity Far, “He told me about when he was in the Navy, when he was 19 or something, and he used to do all of the tattoos for the sailors. And I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing.’ And he went, ‘I can do you one. What would you like? Would you like creatures of the animal kingdom?’
“I said I liked birds and he replied, I’ve done birds. And he pointed down at a painting of a chicken upside down in a bucket to which I replied, ‘No, I’m not having that.’ We decided to do a flock of birds.”
Kate was introduced to the artist when Lucian was 88 after she said he was the person she would most like to meet. She posed nude for him in 2002 while pregnant with her daughter Lila. Moss said, “I went to his house and he started [the nude painting] that night. Couldn’t say no to Lucian. Very persuasive. I phoned Bella [his daughter] the next day and said, ‘How long is it going to take?’ She said, ‘How big is the canvas?’. I said, ‘It’s quite big.’ She said, ‘Oh dear, could take six months to a year.'” The painting ultimately took nine months to complete and was later sold anonymously at an auction for £3.9 million.
Some of his earlier paintings include Box of Apples in 1939, Portrait of Kitty in 1949 and Cecil Beaton in 1950. In Freud’s early career, he focused mainly in surrealism but in the late 1950s, he turned his style into realism, producing outstanding pieces that are tremendously valuable today.