It’s a stock scenario in pulp-fantasy illustration: the man is the hero, the woman is the prize beyond price; the hero is armed, or at least, poised, for battle, the woman is under threat but too delicate to defend herself; the hero stands ready to sacrifice himself for the woman’s protection, the woman cowers, preferably sprawled right at the hero’s feet, preferably with as few clothes on as possible; the hero… well, you get the picture, and it’s not exactly “progressive.” So imagine my surprise when I saw the following painting by the great British realist painter, Lucian Freud:
(Compare the above with any of the Frazetta covers in my previous two posts; note, however, that among the images I have posted here, the subject appears in its most iconic form, with the naked heroine on the ground with her arm around the hero’s leg, the enemy in attack mode, and the hero poised to take on all comers, in The Return of Jongor. See also Jeffrey Jones’s cover for Sons of the Bear-God, by Norvell W. Page.)
Freud’s The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer is the sort of painting in which the artist wants to have cake and eat it: on the one hand, as a rich and famous heterosexual artist, he clearly loves the idea of naked women at his feet, and the truth is — we know it, and Freud definitely knows it — that many beautiful and famous women would leap (and have lept) at the chance to model for him, but on the other hand, Freud also wants us to know that he is aware of the absurdity of the situation, that he (unlike the model herself, apparently) is a paragon of self-control, that he is a dedicated observer and recorder, before all else. When the artist is at work, he is all focus and intensity, and neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a naked woman fondling his leg, shall keep him from his appointed task.
Is Freud himself aware of the visual and thematic connection between The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer and pulp-fantasy art? I have no idea. But it would be hilarious if he isn’t!
Daily Express: Lucian Freud the Lothario (Friday, May 16, 2008), by Simon Edge — “He’s the irascible, reclusive creator of the world’s most expensive painting by a living artist, has a legendary appetite for much younger women and has as many as 40 children.”
UPDATE (22 July 2011):
Ragged Claws Network > Rest in Peace: Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011)