Sex, fighting, art and gambling

freud

In that order? From today’s Book Review:

“Freud’s early works were strongly marked by Morris’s influence, with an exquisitely linear style, brittle and subtly exaggerated. What you remember about them — and they are mostly portraits — are the subjects’ wide, haunted eyes. One sitter later recalled how “he always started with an eyeball, then he imprisoned the eye and then an eyebrow, then a nostril.” Freud hadn’t much money in those days, but he never lacked for patrons or for opportunities to pursue his “violently closely held belief to carry on with lords and ladies,” as one of his daughters put it. He enjoyed the lowlife just as much. By the mid-’50s, though, his art dissatisfied him. “I was getting approval for something that wasn’t of great account,” he felt, and he found his way toward the more painterly, rather clotted and lugubrious style that made him rich and famous. Freud recalled how Kenneth Clark, the former director of the National Gallery, “wrote a card saying that I had deliberately suppressed everything that made my work remarkable . . . and ended, ‘I admire your courage.’ I never saw him again.”

Clark was fundamentally right, I think, and yet Freud remains a fascinating artistic oddity, his work unlike anyone else’s. This brief biography by Phoebe Hoban — the author of full-length lives of Alice Neel and Jean-Michel Basquiat — negotiates with equanimity a life that seems a disorderly maelstrom of sex, fighting, art, gambling, all obsessively pursued and so mixed up it’s sometimes hard to tell one from the other.”

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