A Low Opinion of Leonardo da Vinci

The 87-year-old British painter Lucian Freud – Sigmund’s grandson – a diminutive figure with a blue scarf knotted around his neck, recently made a brief appearance at the London launch of Man With a Blue Scarf, an account of the critic Martin Gaylord’s eight months posing for a portrait. Freud is pictured here in a self portrait.

A private collector bought it for an undisclosed price. A larger Freud portrait, Bruce Bernard (1992), sold for 7.9 million pounds ($12.5 million) at a Christie’s International sale in June 2007.

The day after the launch of the book, Farah Nayeri, a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News, interviewed the author.

Here are some excepts.

Nahyeri asked Freud why he sat for an artist known for magnifying the very features that humans work hard to conceal.

Gayford: You take your chances as to what kind of image comes out, because what he’s interested in is producing the best possible work of art. I was pleasantly surprised by the painting in that respect. I thought it was quite an accurate and even flattering representation of me.

Nayeri: You didn’t fear that you might come out looking awful?

Gayford: I wondered, Is he going to notice certain things?

Nayeri: Like the hair in your ears…. Why are his portraits such a painstaking process?

Gayford: Artists have different speeds. There are some very fast painters. Van Gogh could paint a picture in an hour.

Nayeri: Why do you think Lucian Freud is a great painter?

Gayford: He can do extraordinary things with paint, and is an absolute virtuoso. Although he’s a naturalistic painter – and some would say late in the history of naturalistic painting to come along – he produces, time and time again, images that are completely fresh. They’re not hackneyed, they’re not clichéd, they’re not derived from anything.

In conclusion, Nayeri observed that she was shocked to read that Lucian Freud considered Leonardo a bad painter. He lacked a sense of weight and volume, she wrote, and the tactile qualities of what’s being painted.

“If you have that taste, you find Leonardo is soft and not substantial,” she wrote. “All the brushstrokes are cleared away, and you get a sort of airbrushed effect.”

Leaving Leonardo aside, we learn from other sources that Lucian Freud’s own hero is Titian, whose paintings mean more to him than the works of Poussin, let alone Vermeer, whose people he thinks bizarrely absent.

And by the way:

Freud is rumoured to have up to 40 illegitimate children, although this number is generally accepted as an exaggeration.

Source: Wikipedia


7 responses to “A Low Opinion of Leonardo da Vinci

  1. David Schatzky

    Because his painting is brilliant and provocative, when I was in London last December I tried hard to find a Freud hanging in any of the major public galleries. In all of London there was only one! He used to be the rage, and now is out of favour.
    As remarkable as his painting is, Freud’s etchings (as demonstrated in the Freud/Rembrandt show at the AGO recently) do not measure up.
    But, is Freud a better painter than DaVinci? Anyone’s answer to that is more a reflection of individual taste rather than a qualitative judgement.

  2. Surprising comment: (A) because you could find only one Freud in a London public gallery, and (B) because you did not comment on his private life.

    Thank you.

  3. David Schatzky

    I don’t know why I wasn’t more surprised hearing about his illegitimate offspring. If there’s truth to the rumours, Lucien Freud’s obsession with flesh and bodily decay would lead me to believe that any opportunity to feel alive and even to create new life would come very naturally to him and would help work against the dread of mortality. And as an artist he might not feel constrained by conventional morality. It could also constitute some sort of rebellion against his conservative and conventional grandfather Sigmund, who understood the sex drive, but felt it needed to be constrained by self-control. And he might just be a selfish jerk! Picasso comes to mind.

  4. Horace Krever

    In the West is there still a status of “illegitimate children”?

    • David Schatzky

      Horace, you would know this better than I, but I think these days in the eyes of the law there are no bastards or illegitimate children. I used that phrase carelessly. Perhaps I should have referred to each of those progeny who were not conceived with any of his known wives and girlfriends as “an unclaimed love child”. There are at least eleven children whom he acknowledges and perhaps supports, some of whom bear the name Freud, but I don’t know how many others there are that “fall between the cracks”.

  5. I think Leonardo was a good painter. The fact that he was gay has nothing to do with that. Lucian Freud’s grandfather was a genius, no doubt, and Lucian apparently is too. Is that sort of thing inherited ?