Lucian Freud: Naked Girl Asleep II, 1968 - oil on canvas (Private collection)
Lucian Freud’s paintings aren’t nudes. There is nothing idealized or romanticized about their form, putting them at striking odds with Los Angeles itself, a city which peddles the ideal with shameless zeal. Freud paints naked people. Nothing is hidden. Imperfections are relished, almost fetishized. And no quarter is given by the painter.
The flesh is raw. The skin of the subjects is achingly pale, the extremities often a scrubbed pink. The models are English and Irish mostly. Bodies deprived of sunlight. They look as if they were grown in these curtained rooms. In a sense, they were. The setting for nearly all of the paintings is his studio, as evidenced by the spatterings of paint on the floor and wall, the repetition of the same chair and bed, the same narrow window and its shade.
If light is the language of painting, then skin is the text of Lucian Freud. He obsessively paints each fold of flesh, traces each scar, zit, bluish vein, as if these are the marks the outside world has inflicted on the body. He also paints booze-reddened faces with an enthusiasm not seen since Franz Hals.
Many of the figures are asleep, exposed, vulnerable. You can’t help feel that they have in some way become Freud’s victims. The painter is a voyeur and he transfers this sensation to the viewer of the paintings. There is a slight sense of guilt in viewing Freud’s work, as if you are intruder in a private space. In one portrait of a nude woman sleeping, there is the shadow of a head on the floor. It is surely meant to be Freud’s. But it also becomes the viewer’s.
This painting is part of a series called Naked Girl Asleep. Each of these paintings reimagines what is arguably the most erotic painting in western art, Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde. Courbet’s canvas shows a naked reclining woman, legs spread, vulva exposed. The painting was eventually acquired by the neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan, the obscure philosopher of desire, who kept it hidden behind a wooden sliding door.
Freud’s version drains away Courbet’s eroticism. The woman may be sleeping. Her eyes are closed. But her pose seems too uncomfortable. There is the sense that she may be dead. Dead to all the world, but Freud. Here Eros has been supplanted by Thanatos. (Source)