Freud Denied Painting It, but the Questions Linger

'New Yorker' digs into the history of a disputed work of art attributed to Lucian Freud
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2022 2:10 PM CDT
Freud Denied Painting It, but the Questions Linger
This is 'Self Portrait, Reflection,' by Lucien Freud. It is not the painting in dispute.   (AP Photo/PA, Matthew Fearn, File)

Before he died in 2011, the acclaimed British painter Lucian Freud adamantly denied painting a work that surfaced in the late 1990s and was being attributed to him. You might think that would be the final word on the subject. But as Sam Knight reports in a lengthy story in the New Yorker, it most decidedly is not. The controversy continues to this day, and the stakes are high—the work depicting a naked man from the side might be worth many millions or nothing at all. (Click the New Yorker link to see it.) The story will have you swinging back and forth between the no-it's-not and yes-it-is camps as Knight recounts the various analyses that have taken place in regard to "Standing Male Nude." One using artificial intelligence makes a strong case that Freud (grandson of Sigmund) is indeed the painter.

But if so, why would he deny it? The story digs into this angle, pointing out that artists including Picasso have been known to "lie, or muddy the waters" about certain works. One school of thought is that an artist has every right to do so if a painting isn't up to snuff and was perhaps left unfinished. One thing most agree on about this particular painting is that it is, in fact, a "dud," as one of Freud's former dealers puts it. (He thinks it's a Freud but isn't positive.) Freud himself could be irascible, and he may or may not have called the collector who purchased the work with an offer to buy it, only to get ticked off when told no. (Read the full story, in which Knight suggests another factor at play in such authentification quests: "At a certain point, it stops being about the painting and becomes a search for deeper, and even more impossible, forms of validation.")

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