Portraits are as old as the Pyramids; although unlike the effigies by Western world artists, those by Old Nile artists were idealistic rather than naturalistic. The Royal Academy's exhibit of Lucien Freud's self-portraits is not only true to life descriptions but according to the Academy, are "unflinching."

New wrinkle

Talk about unflinching, the collection includes what might be called a portrait of a second kind, a view of him in a relationship, which provides more information than do pictures of a single face. Titled Hotel Room, what you see is Freud as a shadowy presence by a bed where a woman with fear on her face lies.

Speaking about this work, Rachel Cooke, reviewing the show for The Guardian, said, "He looms over his second wife Caroline Blackwood like a cliff." Make that a mountain.


It's not known what accounts known what accounted for his wife's facial expression, but it's easy to guess given a Daily Express report headlined "Freud the Lothario." The artist is said to have had numerous mistresses and numerous children. Fourteen offspring have been identified. By the look of Blackwood in Hotel Room, she might well have been thinking, "What have I gotten into marrying this guy." The wonder is that Freud saw what she saw and recorded it in paint for all to see. And what Cooke saw was imagery that "pulses menacingly," adding that creeping violence sets the tone for much the show."

Open book

Clearly, Freud was honest with himself when he offered the psychologically penetrating Hotel Room.

Can it be that his heritage - his grandfather was Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis - had something to do with it? Cooke noted the painters "fixation with boiling people down to their essence." In that case, he scalded himself to a virtual prune. It's no wonder, then, that Picasso didn't show up in his brutal portraits of wives and lovers.

He was a notoriously cruel lover who left a long line of bodies in his wake. I'm thinking of Dora Maar's nervous breakdown, +Olga Khokhlova emotional problems and the suicides of Marie Therese Walter and Jacqueline Roque. He painted portraits of them all but left himself out of their pictures.

Icon of loneliness

A painting comparable to Freud's Hotel Room may be Rene Magritte's The Lovers which portrays two people attempting a kiss even though their heads are hooded.

Obviously, their lips can't come together. What's more, the hoods are cloths the color of concrete - stone gray, which comes across as particularly suffocating. Add in that the couple can't feel one another's mouths or even see them, and you've got one hell of a picture of sexual frustration. Why would Magritte paint such an image if he weren't disheartened in this specific way, which makes the painting a self-portrait of loneliness?

Say what?

Unaccountably, Cooke wrote in her review that "he wasn’t keen on the idea of narrative." How else to see Hotel Room than storytelling? His is not a pretty picture and Freud knows it. The Royal Academy quotes him saying, "I don’t accept the information that I get when I look at myself.: If I were him, neither would I.