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Online Exhibition | Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits

The master of the modern nude, Lucian Freud was also a prolific painter of plants. The Garden Museum’s exhibition Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits shows how integral plants were to Freud’s work, exploring his ability to capture their elusive essence in raw and original ways, portrayed in the same gritty, unfiltered style as his human subjects.

In this online exhibition, you can learn more about why Freud painted plants, and the plants that he painted, presented in partnership with Patch Plants.

New videos and stories added regularly!

Digital partner

Following their marriage in 1953, Lucian Freud and Caroline Blackwood bought a secluded seventeenth-century manor house in a Dorset valley. Shortly after moving in, Freud began a mural of cyclamen in the dining room. These were amongst his favourite flowers. In 1959, Freud was one of the first guests to be invited to Chatsworth when the 11th Duke of Devonshire moved his family back into the vacated house. In a private bathroom he began another mural of cyclamen consisting of a handful of flowers and buds. The estate greenhouse supplied pot after pot of flowers for him to paint from.

The view from the window at 227 Gloucester Terrace in London was far from bucolic. Painted when the artist was in his late 40s, this abandoned garden in Paddington—then a rundown and densely populated area just north of Hyde Park—captures a story of human and plant resilience.

3471416 Wasteground, Paddington, 1970 (oil on canvas) by Freud, Lucian (1922-2011); 71x71 cm; Private Collection; © The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022.

Please note: This photograph requires additional permission prior to use. If you wish to reproduce this image, please contact Bridgeman Images and we will manage the permission request on your behalf.

What is a garden?

By Giovanni Aloi, Guest Curator

What is a garden? This is the radical question posed by some of Lucian Freud’s most original paintings. Unlike Stanley Spencer, who routinely painted plants and gardens, or even Cedric Morris, who introduced him to plants, Freud wasn’t particularly interested in capturing the beauty of lush flower beds.

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“When I see plants, I do not see prettiness but, rather, ruthlessness, strength, and lust.” - Cedric Morris, 1942. Lucian Freud was taught by Morris at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing from 1939.

This highly unusual composition encapsulates Freud’s originality in approaching plants. Placed on the floor, seen from above, the fern is not part of a lush forest undergrowth, and neither is it situated in the stately greenhouse of a botanic garden. Ferns were absent from the classical seventeenth century still-life genre and this fern sits snug in the modesty of its terracotta pot.

Meet the plants behind the paintings

Patch helps you discover the best plants for your space, delivers them to your door and helps you look after them. Bring the Freud exhibition home with living works of art – the plants themselves.

For example, did you know that aspidistra, which Freud painted in Two Plants, are sometimes known as the Cast Iron Plant because they’re almost impossible to kill? It was a popular houseplant in Victorian times, because it easily tolerated the poor light and air quality of 19th century homes.

Meet the plants

What happens when you spend three years on a plant painting? Lucian Freud painted ‘Two Plants’ from 1977-1980, capturing growth, movement, new life, and death. Curator Giovanni Aloi explains what this experimental painting can teach us about Freud’s original approach to plant portraits.

2628789 Small Fern, 1967 (oil on canvas) by Freud, Lucian (1922-2011); 34.3x29.2 cm; Private Collection; © The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022.

Freud’s Potted Plants

By Giovanni Aloi, Guest Curator

Potted plants have a long history and yet western art has had a complicated relationship with them. It is known that clay and ceramic pots were widely used in India, Japan, China, and Korea over 3000 years ago, mostly to bring plants closer to houses and in courtyards rather than indoors. Terracotta plant pots have been found in the Minoan palace at Knossos on Crete. The Romans preferred to plant lemon trees in large marble pots. And throughout the Middle Ages, pots were used in convents to grow herbs as well as to keep life-saving medicinal plants close at hand.

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Banner image: Still Life with Zimmerlinde, c.1950 Freud,Lucian Private Collection, Photo © Christie’s Images© The Lucian Freud Archive, Bridgeman Images