cover image A Painter’s Progress: A Portrait of Lucian Freud

A Painter’s Progress: A Portrait of Lucian Freud

David Dawson. Knopf, $65 (276p) ISBN 978-0-385-35408-0

Dawson, who devoted 20 years to Freud—one of the foremost British painters of the 20th century—as assistant, companion, and model, is himself an artist, and in this mesmerizing photography book, his work provides an intimate portrait of Freud’s daily life from the late 1990s through his death in 2011. Photographs of models with their portraits show Freud’s idiosyncratic, distorting vision, the antithesis of flattery, which subtly contrasted with the more lyrical treatment of his garden. The studio itself appears as an eccentric, mysterious, private stage set, with piles of dirty white rags against walls thickened with masses of paint smears scraped from Freud’s palette, the artist’s penciled reminders to himself, and a backdrop for the iron bed on which many of his models spread themselves. Dawson documents Freud encountering the world, socializing and viewing art, as well as the art in his home. The final group of photos shows the hanging of Freud’s 2012 posthumous retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery; the juxtaposition of workers and portraits imbues both with intensified irony, emotion, and vibrant life, exposing the full visceral power of Freud’s work and Dawson’s tenderness, wit, and skill in portraying it. (Oct.)