This wasn't my first encounter with the daring images of Freud's subjects and I wondered what could surprise me. Indeed, many fellow Londoners would describe it as a trip down memory lane and yet I spent almost three hours closely studying intimate and seemingly honest portraits as well as enormous naked portraits, as Freud himself used to like to call them.
To me, the newness lied in unrecognisable manner. I first was drawn by Freud's early paintings that at times reminded me (very remotely though) of Modigliani due to primitive, two-dimensional depiction of human eyes. Freud was onto something but still so very rigid as if he tried too hard to get it right. In contrast, he ended up laying much more expressive, Munch-like brushstrokes towards the end of his life, although the pallet of the colours remained nearly the same – it's evident Freud used to enjoy fixing his eyes on pale flesh the most.
Indeed, among more than sixty paintings one can discover a plethora of works showcasing human flesh, probably, at its best. To some people many of the scenes seem sexually charged but I'm one of those who discern nearly brutal and uncomfortable vulnerability, nakedness of the soul. In comparison, Koons's Made in Heaven pieces are undoubtedly and even bluntly more provoking.
Royal fans will be happy to see Queen Elizabeth II's portrait, which, by the way, wasn't painted in typical Freudian manner. By that I mean it's not apparent that this is Freud's painting – could be mistaken for anyone else! There are more figures of power, including men in grey suits, that have managed to make their way into the National Gallery. However, the most powerful and striking images are of those seemingly powerless, bruised, melancholic individuals. Strange people's mundaneness, everyday pain and disappointment in glistering eyes never cease to amaze me.
Well, not so mundane, when you think about it. I giggled when other viewers attempted to guess why a man is breast-feeding a baby in one of the monumental paintings portraying an everyday scene. Their natural response was connected to the contemporary issues but the answer written in the gallery label was much simpler.
In the case of those who have seen Freud before, this exhibition will reveal new perspectives only if you see it with new eyes but it's totally worth trying. And of course, if you're one of those people who just got surprised that Freud used to paint, by all means, take a trip to the National Gallery to see the exhibition. It's not Sigmund 😉 but the fact that this artist enjoyed painting nudes of his daughters tells something about his bloodline.
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN UK
Open until 22 January 2023