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American Imago 61.1 (2004) 89-99

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Lucian and Sigmund Freud

Peter Loewenberg
449 Levering Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024

"A little different from reality:
the difference that we make in what we see."
—Wallace Stevens, "Description without Place"

William Feaver, the curator to whom we are grateful for his prodigious labors in realizing this grand retrospective for us, gave an opening presentation in this hall that I would like to use as a backdrop and counterpoise for my remarks. Feaver went to substantial and repeated lengths to stress that Lucian Freud "did not grow up in the shadow of psychoanalysis." "Categorically, there was very little influence of Sigmund Freud." He said that Lucian Freud and psychoanalysis "are poles apart." He told us, as if to diminish the association, that Lucian Freud read his grandfather's book on jokes. But Sigmund Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) is not a trivial or minor work. It is in fact a major work of social science of which James Strachey (1960) wrote: "The book is full of fascinating material, much of which reappears in no other of Freud's writings. The detailed accounts it contains of complicated psychological processes have no rivals outside The Interpretation of Dreams, and it is indeed a product of the same burst of genius which gave us that great work" (8).

Lucian Freud, born in 1922, is the middle of Ernst and Lucy Freud's three sons. Ernst, who lived from 1892 to 1970, was the fourth of Sigmund and Martha Freud's six children and the third of their three sons. Lucian knew his grandfather in a number of contexts. When he was a boy his grandfather periodically came to Berlin to visit, undergo cancer treatments, and stay at the psychoanalytic sanatorium Schloss Tegel run by Ernst Simmel (Peck 1966, 374). Sigmund Freud gave [End Page 89] Lucian The Arabian Nights, illustrated by Edmund Dulac, and prints of Bruegel. The two shared a liking for Wilhelm Busch's comic strip brats Max and Moritz. Lucian saw Adolf Hitler once at an outdoor meeting: "he had huge people on either side of him; he was tiny" (Feaver 2002, 16). When Lucian was eleven, in 1933, the family left Germany for England. He was expelled from school in 1938 for dropping his trousers in a Bournemouth street. Lucian recalls the death of his grandfather in September 1939: "There was a sort of a hole in his cheek like a brown apple; that was why there was no death mask made, I imagine. I was upset" (Feaver 2002, 18). Lucian has a deep affection for England, noting: "All my interest and sympathy and hope circulate around the English." When Time magazine suggested that he was disloyal to England, he sued for libel and prevailed (Russell 1974, 17).

Lucian's younger brother Clement (1924-) is a noted gourmand and epicure, T.V. chef, media personality, and author of Freud on Food (1978). Clement became a Liberal M.P. for the Isle of Ely and Cambridgeshire, N.E., and was knighted in 1987. The contrast in personal styles and identity development between the two brothers—the bourgeois political gastronome and the bohemian artist—is striking. According to Feaver, Lucian absolutely detests Clement, and the feeling is mutual. Lucian's elder brother, Stephen, is a North London keeper of a door-knob and door-knocker shop, presenting a further contrast in life-styles.

I would like to suggest, in contrast to Feaver, that at least four culture critical and stylistic themes tie the artistic grandson to the analytic grandfather, and that they together form a syntonic relationship. These shared attitudes toward the world, the body, the self, and human culture argue for the possibility of direct influence between the work of Lucian Freud and Sigmund Freud.

1. An Unsentimental Objectivity concerning the Human Body and Sexuality

Lucian Freud transgresses the social limits of painting and portraiture. His work appears raw and abrasive; his portraits [End Page 90] are often nudes, not glamorized, decorated, or disguised, but bodies as they are—bulky...


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