Top positive review
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Excellent portrayal of a complex man
on 31 October 2013
Lucien Freud was not a simple man. Indeed, he was not always a likeable man. He was, however, a great man. This book portrays the complexity and the greatness with equal adroitness, helped by the fact that the author, Geordie Greig, knew him well in his latter years. While the friendship is the reason the book exists, and why it has its title, Greig has not written a piece of hagiography but a biography which reveals an enormous amount about the man and his work.
It is not a conventional biography following a strict chronology, but a work which attempts to reveal the real Freud. In some ways it can be likened to the painter's work; it draws on particular features of its subject and does not flinch from an honest representation. At times Freud's refusal to behave in the way society expects offends, but Greig does not attempt to justify or exonerate except in that he is giving a true portrait. Freud appears solipsistic to unacceptable levels and Greig recounts his treatment of women and, at times, his children with honesty and with a critical voice, but this is tempered by the affection with which even those he has treated badly regard him.
Greig does not write from the point of view of an art critic and this is the book's strength to the non-expert but interested reader. Insight into Freud's paintings is given with a personal touch: the sitter is of as much interest to Greig as the painting. The illustrations which are dotted through the text take on a new resonance after reading of the painting's genesis and both the sitter and the work is enhanced by this. Greig also provides comment on Freud's techniques in a way which helps explain what has always been familiar when looking at a Freud painting - the thick application of paint and the attention to the minutiae of his subject.
What is impressive about the book is the way in which the differing strands are tied together in a sophisticated and coherent way. As the book develops the strands become more and more united and a rounded picture emerges . Greig uses testimony from many of Freud's friends and, while Freud's life reached a complexity which is hard to reconcile, the book never confuses and some of the verbatim conversations cited capture the character excellently. It is personal in tone, and the account of Freud's death is genuinely moving, but it is none the worse for that.
I feel I understand Freud better than I did previously and that is the mark of a good biography.