The Royal Academy of Arts exhibition ‘Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits’ spanned nearly seven decades of the artist’s work, from his earliest portrait, painted in 1939, to his final one executed 64 years later. They trace the evolution from the linear graphic works of his early career to the fleshier, painterly style he became synonymous with.
The majority of the paintings in the exhibition were completed in Freud’s home and studio at 138 Kensington Church Street, where he lived and worked from the late 1970s to his death in 2011. He used the double first-floor room as distinct studios: a naturally-lit day studio in the north-east facing rear room and artificially-lit night studio in the west-facing front room, the shutters kept closed.
The design of the exhibition was inspired by the neutral colours, tones and textures of Freud’s domestic environment, to evoke the atmosphere in which the paintings were created, while the exhibition’s display cases echo the character of studio furniture: trestle tables and easels. Natural fabrics line some of the free-standing walls, echoing the texture of the canvas, and the lightweight curtains that Freud used to veil his windows and filter the light. Black high-gloss reveals lined the doorways between the galleries, playing on the idea of self-reflection, and picking up the traces of visitors’ fingerprints, marking the passage of time.