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Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits

This autumn the Garden Museum will present the first exhibition to delve into Lucian Freud’s paintings of plants and gardens.

The undisputed master of the modern nude, Lucian Freud was also a prolific painter of plants. This exhibition will show how integral plants were to Freud’s work, exploring his ability to capture their elusive essence in original ways while giving them the same life as his human subjects.

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Still Life with Zimmerlinde, c.1950 Freud, Lucian (1922-2011) Credit: Private Collection. Photo © Christie's Images/© The Lucian Freud Archive. All Rights Reserved 2022/Bridgeman Images.

Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits will bring together a selection of rarely or never-before-seen paintings and etchings of potted plants and gardens, and will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth (8 December 1922).

Freud was not a gardener but had a close and respectful relationship with plants, from rarely-seen drawings from his childhood in Berlin to his garden in Notting Hill, and the straggly potted plants that followed him from home to home throughout his life. The exhibition also explores why, and when, he chose to paint plants, and not people.

Flowers on a Red Chair, 1998 (oil on canvas) Freud, Lucian, Private Collection; Small Fern, 1967 (oil on canvas) Freud, Lucian, Private Collection; Two Plants, 1977-80 (oil on canvas) Freud, Lucian, Tate Modern; Cyclamen, 1964 (oil on canvas) Freud, Lucian, Private Collection. All images © The Lucian Freud Archive, All Rights Reserved 2022 / Bridgeman Images

Zimmerlinde, one of the plants he painted many times throughout his career, was an unofficial Freud family emblem. Originally grown in Vienna by the artist’s famous grandfather, Sigmund, cuttings of the plant were passed on to family members as a living keepsake.

In Freud’s plant paintings yellowed leaves, blemishes, and tears are celebrated, distinctive traits demarcating the true identity of individual plants: and unique portraits capturing a history of shared growth entwining artist and plant.

Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits is curated by art historian and author of Freud’s Herbarium, Giovanni Aloi.