LUCIEN FREUD: Painting in Impasto Style, Self-portrait

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After a near flop-show of the first exhibition of my paintings, I was believing myself at the end of my artistic efforts. 

The colours of my future in the art world looked of only one shade: the dark. 

The enthusiasm was at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It happens; that was what I had heard. I believed in it when it happened to me.  But I had luck. A good one. I got a chance to remain in the field of art. In those days, I came across the work done by one master painters. It revived my faith in art; it kept the artistic flame burning in me. The name of the artist whose work I saw was, Lucian Freud. The painting I saw was the self-portrait.

Here is the self-portrait by a master painter Lucien Freud. It was an inspiration for me; it must have been a source of inspiration for many artists like me. Lucian Freud is one of the great painters of our time. One relevant piece of information about him: he is the grandson of the most renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud. But we are concerned with his art. And his art is Impasto.


Impasto is a method of painting wherein the main instrument used is the knife; and not the brush. Naturally, the knife would send the colours on a canvas in great mass. So it is impasto. Many artists chose to use the paintbrush and paint thickly with it. Putting a mass of colours on a canvas. It creates the thickness of masterly knifed or brushed-stroked colours.

In this self-portrait, a superbly painted masterpiece, Lucien Freud had used his favourite 'Impasto' style of painting. When paints are thickly applied on canvas, with a brush or a palette knife, it would create a unique kind of appearance and texture. This is called the impasto style of painting. 

Literally, the word impasto means ‘mixture’. While working under this style of painting, an artist is able to negotiate a special relationship between the colours,  which are mixed on the canvas itself. Moreover, the artists remain well aware of the distance from which they see the paintings. He or she would know how the viewers would see. It helps artists to know the viewers perspective, as the viewers would not see the painting from such a closeness an artist is supposed to see it. 

procsilasCC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Lucian Freud

This painting technique is suitable when an artist is using oil paint. Oil paints are relatively thick and they take more drying time. Moreover, impasto has built a new type of relationship between the hues of the colours and their physical thickness. In a more comprehensive sense, the impasto technique is an improvement in the field of spatial discoveries. It creates a relationship between the artworks and the viewers' eyes. Many artists used this technique of applying colours in their acrylic paintings, too. But 'impasto' style of painting has one limitation. It cannot be used if an artist uses watercolour or tempera, as these colours are fairly thin in characteristics.

THE ART: Impasto is the method of putting the colours on canvass in a manner that gives texture to a painting. It has its own advantages over the other styles of painting. When an artist uses this as his or her style of painting, he or she has two novel intentions in mind. 

Firstly, the technique of impasto depicts the effects of light in a sophisticated way. It enables an artist to have a quantity of control over the quality of the light and how to manage the reflections of light in a given painting.

Secondly, it helps in adding a tint of expressiveness to painting. An art lover would recognize the artistic strength and speed in the working of such an artist. Lucian Freud's paintings have become famous during his lifetime. A fortunate artist. He is one of the most fortunate artists in this regard. As born in 1922, and pursuing his artistic career continuously, he owns a large collection of paintings. At the height of his genius, he had painted men and women in various poses. These paintings are regarded as his best creations. 

Under this technique, an artist would load colour on a brush or palette knife, and the load would be more than usually an artist would do. The most important benefit of using impasto is that it transforms a painting into a three-dimensional disposition, gifting it with a sculptural look.  In the above painting, the modern painter Lucian Freud has done his self-portrait in an impasto style. This painting is one of the best examples of this method.  

Roses - Vincent van Gogh
Roses Oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh 
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 

Impasto and Van Gogh: The master artists like Rembrandt and Titian had used this energetic technique. Van Gogh had used this style. It made his painting carrying artistic strength. Van Gogh used it for displaying the utmost capacity of colours to recreate images that the artists would conceive in their minds. It is believed that Van Gogh had painted this art piece when he was undergoing mental treatment. 

Look at the bold brush strokes. The colour combination is as precious as a Van Gogh painting would be having. This painting was done using the impasto technique of painting. Here we see Van Gogh using a limited palette: greens and yellows. As the colours are mixed on the canvas itself, as is done in the impasto technique, the texture is excellent and eye-catching. 

Orange Gourd Cordelia Wilson (1876-1953)
Oil painting, in a private collection,
Kansas City, Missouri

Impasto Artists: In recent time, too, master painters like Hans Hofmann and Willem De Kooning have extensively used this technique of impasto, making their paintings looking more aesthetic and meaningfully expressive in nature. Look at the painting Orange Gourd done by American woman artist Cordelia Wilson (176-1953). Here she had used the impasto technique of painting. She mostly did her painting in the style of all prima and impasto style of paintings. She was known for her landscape painting of New Mexico, which is a state in the South-west of the United States.

Sometimes these artists apply the paint in such a big stock that the painting itself really looks like a sculpture made out of colours. These artists really want to explore the possibilities of creating maximum depth in their paintings. [Image courtesy By deflam (Flikr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

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