Man in a Chair offers up a pair of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza hands which reveal tension, anxiety and age. Naked Man With Rat has the rodent's tail sitting against the model's thigh near an equally naked penis. The Brigadier - a clothed portrait of Freud's friend Andrew Parker Bowles - features a swell of stomach under the confines of a crisp white shirt.
Planned as a living exhibition in collaboration with Freud himself before his death in 2011, the show takes in portraits from across Freud's artistic timeline, from the early works of the 1940s which saw him earnestly taking in every detail of his first wife, Kitty's face to the thick paintwork bringing his studio assistant David Dawson to life in the painting he left unfinished on the easel at his death.
The progression from fledgling painter to assured artist is revealed room by room and, although not every piece is a masterpiece, Freud's skill in bringing his sitters' "inner life that's ticking away" to the forefront is more and more in evidence.
Particular highlights are the enormous canvases devoted to performance artist Leigh Bowery and Bowery's friend Sue Tilley where Freud's enthusiasm for both sitters is palpable. The paintings of Tilley in particular betray the artist's fascination with the story told by a sitter's flesh as well as his skill in capturing a very English flavour of lighting.
Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's habit of painting subjects as viewed from an outside viewpoint exemplify this vision of a US aesthetic. Interestingly, the very early works in the exhibition exude the same flatness you find in American Gothic. They're almost painfully meticulous and strangely disconnected, with the body parts created one after another rather than as a coherent whole. The results, slightly bug-eyed and cold.
During the mid-50s Freud switches to coarser paintbrushes and begins to favour working while standing, allowing for broader and more natural sweeps of paint which bring depth and life to the bodies he paints. It is from this point onward that Freud begins to revel in the fleshiness and interior life of his subject and brings a shock of unruly bodily reality to the public eye which is so much the antithesis of Auping's description of American art.
Both Freud's own life and those of his various sitters intertwine in paint and stretch across the canvases in a kind of biography of relationships. When Auping once asked Freud "Why nudes?" Freud answered, "It's the most complete portrait." Looking at the work on display in the exhibition, it's hard to disagree.
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