Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011) was a British painter, specializing in figurative art. Born in Berlin in a Jewish family, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, his family fled for London when he was 11 years old to escape the Nazis’ persecution. He is best known for his very realistic unsettling nudes that offer a sense of decay and hopelessness to the viewer.
Boy Smoking (1950-1951) is an up close cropped portrait of Charlie Lumley, Freud’s friend and studio neighbor, whom he painted repeatedly during the 1950s. Much like Chuck Close, Freud was drawn to painting only a handful of people that mattered the most to him, among them his wife Kitty Garman and artist Francis Bacon. He would portray them repeatedly, attracted by their “aura”. So was the case for Charlie Lumley, whom he first encountered when the boy, alongside his brother, tried to break into Freud’s studio.
The oversized eyes and lips bring more character to the artist’s subject, while the cropping technique discards any context or hint we might tune into. All we’re left with is the boy’s essence, his face, the cigarette adding a rebellious and contemplative state to his portrait.