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David and Eli, 2003-2004

Lucian Freud

Oil paint on canvas | 162.6 x 174 cm | Private European Collection. Courtesy of The Faurschou Foundation
© Tate, London 2017 © The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images

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This is one of the large-format pictures Freud painted towards the end of his life. It shows David Dawson, a friend of Freud’s and his assistant until he died, with one of the artist’s dogs, Eli. Pets often appeared in Freud’s portraits, and are a sign of the artist’s passionate love of animals. The direct comparison of human and animal serves to reinforce the inherent animal nature of the naked human body, while drawing attention to the tactile qualities of the skin, which he has explored using thick brushstrokes that heighten the colours and vivid quality of the flesh. Freud’s legendary studio was reminiscent of the tiny, enclosed, almost hermetic spaces that were the art laboratories of the great 19th-century painters.


This painting is the second in a series of four large-format pictures showing Dawson with Eli or Pluto, Freud’s other dog.


"I want paint to work as flesh, If you don’t over-direct the sitters and just focus on their physical presence, interesting things often happen, and you find that you capture something about them that neither of us knew."


Lucian Freud’s words show the importance to him of physical presence and obvious carnality.