An almost life-size full-length reclining portrait of a naked and pregnant young woman, Naked Portrait 2002 is one of only a few portraits the artist has painted of well-known or famous people. In this case Freud's sitter is, with the possible exception of Queen Elizabeth II, probably the most famous figure ever to be painted by the artist. His model is the "supermodel" Kate Moss.
About as far away, in the art historical canon, from Andy Warhol, as it is conceivably possible to get, Freud's art is completely opposed to the artifice, illusion and surface glitz that often accompanies much celebrity portraiture. Taking between six months and a year of regular sittings for the artist to complete a painting, not only is Freud's working practice ill-suited to most celebrity lifestyles, but so is the very nature of his art. Almost fanatically devoted to the visual appearance of phenomenal reality Freud's art makes a stark, intrusive and probably unwelcome contrast to the masks and veils of illusion and glamour that many famous people hide behind. Exposing everything to a cold and all-pervasive light, Freud's fierce, curious and analytical gaze and painstaking scrutiny of even the smallest of details endows his unique and very pure way of painting with a level of apparently objective realism that is often as disturbing as it is fascinating. Slow to produce, painstakingly crafted and difficult to fabricate, Freud's painting carries with it an integrity and a claim to visual truth that serves as an important and necessary antidote to the fast-paced, quickly-packaged world of surface glitz and the sound-bite that characterises so much of the modern world. A world that, in many ways, the iconic face and body of Kate Moss has both adorned and been used to advertise and promote for the last fifteen or so years.
The collaboration between Freud and Moss that produced Naked Portrait 2002 therefore has a strange sense of appropriateness about it representing the coming together of two different ends of the societal spectrum. It is in this respect a union of opposites that applies the slow scrutiny and technique of the old masters to the iconic figure from the fleeting and superficial world of contemporary fashion, magazine covers and commercial advertising.
As Freud has often pointed out, he generally prefers only to paint people he knows well and not to work from professional models. Well versed and practiced at holding poses, professional models are often too "hardened", Freud has said, "they've grown another skin because they've been looked at so much." (Lucian Freud cited by William Feaver, "Seeing through the Skin" The Guardian, May 18, 2002). For the same reason Freud has often been reluctant to paint famous people. When being pressed to paint Princess Diana for example, Freud declined, explaining that he couldn't paint her because he couldn't get past that "sheen of glamour". The image was "so strong" he said, that he couldn't "get at the real person." (Lucian Freud cited by Louise Liddel in Stuart Jeffries, "Talent in the Raw" The Guardian, June 10, 2002).
Freud's decision to paint Kate Moss, not only one of the most 'looked at' but also one of the most famous people in the world, was therefore clearly a challenge for the artist. She is not the first supermodel to have been painted by him. He also attempted to paint Jerry Hall in the late 1990s and has described both models as "very practical. Very lively and very contained" adding that they were both "physically intelligent." (William Feaver : "Seeing through the Skin" The Guardian, May 18, 2002).
As with all his sitters, what interests Freud most is seeing them dispassionately and objectively as unique examples, if not specimens, of physical animation. "I'm really interested in them as animals", he has said, "Part of liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more: see the forms repeating right through the body and often in the head as well. One of the most exciting things is seeing through the skin, to the blood and veins and markings." (William Feaver: "Seeing through the Skin" The Guardian, May 18, 2002.) In painting someone like Kate Moss, therefore, Freud would be investigating the physical form of a person who has been probed and projected in almost every way by the camera lens. Applying his own strict discipline of scrutinizing the figure under a light, like a scientist inspecting a new life form, Freud would create, as the resultant painting shows, a striking but wholly different image of Moss. It is one that in showing another person from the one so recognisable and so often portrayed by the camera also demonstrates some of the limitations of the photographic medium's claims on reality.
Freud's decision to paint the supermodel was indirectly prompted by Kate Moss herself. In an article reproduced in the style magazine Dazed and Confused Moss revealed that one of her remaining unfulfilled ambitions was to pose for Freud. Unexpectedly, Freud seems to have seen the article and been prompted to arrange a sitting. Moss, who had explained in the article that she was aware of how slowly Freud worked, and was unconcerned how long such a 'modeling job' would take, was pregnant when the sittings for this portrait began. Because of this Freud began the painting from her slightly pregnant stomach so as to fix it in paint before it grew further.
The fact that Moss was pregnant when Freud painted her, as indeed was Jerry Hall when he painted her, may have helped Freud to get beyond the "sheen of glamour" that clearly surrounds his subject and it is evidently the key feature of this uncharacteristic image of her. Naked Portrait 2002 is no glamorous Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover but, as in the majority of Freud's portraits, a full-length reclining nude portrait of a robust physical being looked down on, both viewed and lit from above. The normally waif-like Moss is here presented as an imposing physical presence, looking both more corporeal and physically substantial than any fashion photograph could or would ever show. Staring directly at the viewer with a look of weary resolution her body seems disproportionately large, growing in magnitude as it perspectivally approaches the viewer in such a way that Moss's face, normally the dominant force in any photograph of her, is overshadowed. It is here dominated by a seemingly animated body that has generated and is generating a very visceral life of its own.
Most striking and unusual in this work is Freud's use of white painted corners, blotting out the top left and bottom right corners of the canvas seemingly transforming the shape of the work into a parallelogram. Irregular shaped canvases have appeared regularly in Freud's most recent work, usually in the form of additions, such as in paintings like After Cézanne of 2000 or Two Brothers from Ulster of 2001. In these works Freud has adapted the shape of the canvas as a means of responding to as well as articulating the form of the people depicted. The same is the case in this work except that here the original rectangular shape of the canvas has been reduced rather than augmented. On Freud's instructions, his assistant, David Dawson, painted out the two corners of the painting in white. The reason he insisted on Dawson doing this was that he wanted these areas to form the boundaries of his own work. Their effect, both novel and daring, creates an extremely contemporary look to the work while at the same time reinforcing the dominant centrality of the naked figure and reasserting her imposing physical presence. It is an extremely radical gesture that, in the context of Freud's very traditional-looking way of painting, attains an added shock factor, the broad white triangles lending the work a manufactured quality that is wholly at odds with the painstaking realism and craftsmanship of the central image. In this, however, as in the surprising collaboration of Moss and Freud in the creation of the portrait, two very different worlds seem to come together in a fascinating and ultimately successful conjunction.