In After Cézanne Lucian Freud enters into a dialogue with the French painter Paul Cézanne. Freud's composition is based on a Cézanne painting in his own collection, but the French artist also painted a number of versions of this theme. One of these works, Afternoon in Naples c.1875, is in the National Gallery of Australia's collection (NGA 1985.460). The paintings by Cézanne and Freud differ vastly in scale and effect. While Cézanne's easel painting is intimate and intended for private viewing, the drama in Freud's canvas has a monumental impact.
Freud's After Cézanne also differs in the emphasis on figures and objects. The painting shows three naked figures in an interior - as if a particular moment has been captured photographically. The upturned chair contribute disorder to the scene. Freud has paid particular attention to the upholstery, the tacks and the padding to ensure that this chair has real weight and physical presence. Minutiae such as the hanging castor wheels, indentations in the mattress and the rumpled sheets encourage speculation.
The reclining male and female figures have each been painted in an entirely different manner. The creamy palette chosen for the female's fleshy form contrasts starkly with the sinewy man, whose colouring is darker, and whose extremities are defined with accents of red. His features have been 'chiselled' in paint. Freud's painterly analysis of flesh is clinical and unromanticised. The sprawling, angular pose of the man gives emphasise to his penis against the white sheet.
Conjecture about the relationships portrayed is inevitable. What are we to make of this gaunt, morose young man and why is his companion attempting to console him, if that is what she is doing? Has the attendant interrupted this scene or is she also a protagonist in this drama? Whatever conclusions are drawn, the fact remains that Freud exercises a powerful control over his psychological portraits. The painting is a very contemporary one, exploring issues of dependence and independence, sexual engagement and ambivalence, intimacy and alienation.
The shape of the painting is unusual. The artist originally intended the attendant figure to be portrayed from the upper arms down, with her arms and the tray suggesting the reason for her presence. The extension at upper left was added later to accommodate the whole figure. Originally she was clothed, but Freud has painted over the gown. The inclusion of the attendant provides the most direct link with Cézanne's Afternoon in Naples. Freud is consciously positioning himself and the painting in the history of art. In this frank examination of privacy and exposure, Freud's After Cézanne makes a dramatic claim for painting and the genre of studio painting.
adapted from Catherine Lampert's and Rolf Lauter's reports on the painting, published in Lucian Freud: After Cézanne, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 2001, another version in Developing the Collection: Acquisitions 1999-2001, Canberra: National Galley of Australia 2001, p.43 by Lucina Ward.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010