It took him three years to paint them. The driest of brown leaves, the light reflected on the green palms, the tranquility. He had moved to a new studio, the scene was what he could see and that was his way of identifying himself with that new place, of making it his own, of becoming familiar with it.
Lucien Freud’s ‘Two Plants’ (1977-1980) are now in a corner of the Picasso Museum in Malaga, and their apparent docility disguises a different way of understanding art. “The same viscerality he dedicates to the human body can be seen here. He tries to indicate the passage of time with the same passion in the natural environment as in human life,” says Elena Crippa, the curator of ‘Bacon, Freud and the London School’, the first exhibition to come out of an agreement between the Picasso Museum and London’s Tate Gallery.
The 90 works from the British institution can be seen at the Picasso Museum until 17 September, and they reflect one of the most vibrant chapters in the history of western art in the past century. The works cover eight decades and the exhibition is an important step forward in the museum’s international presence.
After its agreements with the New York Metropolitan (2007), the Swedish Moderna Museet (2013) and the MoMA (2016-2017), among others, the Malaga museum is now embarking upon an alliance which promises further joys in the future. “This is our first and ambitious partnership with the Picasso Museum of Malaga... we are delighted to loan works from our collection, and we like to take advantage of the knowledge of our European colleagues and also request works from them. This is a communal collaboration in which everyone benefits,” said Judith Nesbitt, the director of National and International Programmes at the Tate in London, at the opening of the exhibition. And in case anyone has any doubts about the forthcoming Brexit, she insisted that “there is no doubt that the Tate will continue its commitment to collaborating with European institutions.”
This exhibition features a group of artists who worked in London and whose works “show us what our art owes to the children of immigrants,” explained Judith. The artistic director of the Picasso Museum, José Lebrero, described them as “cultural refugees,” who created their own path in western art from the first third of the 20th century onwards.
“This exhibition is obsessively dedicated to painting,” he remarked about one of the main signs of identity of the group, which focused with special intensity on representing the human form and the landscape when the dominant trend was the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and co.
“Painting here,” said Lebrero, “is not image. It is presence. We have become accustomed to distancing ourselves from things, but we need to get close to these pictures.” Indeed, it is a good idea to get as near as the security measures will allow to the smooth brushstrokes of Freud, the wild carnality of Bacon, the overflowing palette of Kossof, the rabid chromatism of Ronald B. Kitaj, the delicacy of Michael Andrews, the bloody (?) figures of Euan Uglow and the silent subversion of Paula Rego.
Body and landscape
This new exhibition at the Picasso Museum should not be rushed. Pause before the works of William Coldstream and David Bomberg. Linger at your first view of Bacon’s ‘Figure in a Landscape’ (1945). Let yourself fall into the abyss of the portraits by Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossof before turning to Freud’s disturbing ‘Girl with a Kitten’ (1947), which hangs beside his ‘Girl with a White Dog’ (1950-51).
The landscape, the portrait, the human body, the city of London. Axes upon which works which are very diverse among themselves turn, by artists who are represented chronologically through their careers.
Two names stand out above all the rest, however: the works by Freud cover a period of 50 years, up to his ‘David and Eli’ (2003-2004), passing through ‘Girl with Striped Nightshirt’ (1983-87) and ‘Leigh Bowary’ (1991). And with regard to Bacon, there are more than three decades between his ‘Figure in a Landscape’ (1945) and ‘Triptych August 1972’, accompanied by his ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’ (1988), two of the works with the most powerful visual impact in this display.
“The school was based on a commitment to the human figure, and it explains the artistic and human relationship between these artists which lasted for so long. When we talk about the London School we usually focus on Freud a great deal, but here we want to show that there were in fact many others,” explained Elena Crippa.