Lucian Freud | An art inquiry exercise


Source: Wikiart 

I was lurking in yesterday’s webinar on Evidence-based Observation by Silvana Richardson because I had some work to complete away but talk of a painting quickly hooked me.  Silvana used an activity built around Lucien Freud’s painting ‘Head of a Naked Girl’ to lead in to the session and get attendees to think about objectivity and subjectivity in observations. I thought it was a fairly effective exercise. However, when I looked online I didn’t find any references related to the incident or the quote she used. Maybe it’s an apocryphal story but it’s intriguing nonetheless.


Lucien Freud’s Head of a Naked Girl perhaps on a slide or as a printout; the quote from the model who’s the subject of the paining.


  • Display the picture and ask Ss to describe what they see.
  • Ask Ss to categorize responses into objective and subjective statements.
  • Now ask them to consider what the artist’s mood might have been when he was painting this portrait and what he might have wanted to express through the painting.
  • Finally have them consider their personal opinion – what do they think about the painting? Would they want to have it in their homes?


  • This could potentially be a very powerful ‘jolt’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down the picture Silvana used of the model who is the subject of this portrait. She’s young and pretty and this is what she had to say about Lucian Freud:

The truth is that he is in all his paintings. One day he blacked my eye – the painting’s eye. That day he’d shut his ear in a door and it went nasty black. The finished face has been interpreted by one critic as me being “in a strop”. But it wasn’t my temper. It was about Lucian’s ear.

  • Lucian Freud’s paintings were ostensibly of other people but they were often reflections of himself. Ask Ss to reflect on the observations they made earlier in light of this new information. Ask them to relate Freud’s subjective observation to observations made by teacher trainers for the purposes of giving developmental feedback.
  • The exercise could be used in the business classroom to discuss performance appraisals and feedback. Here’s an article from Telegraph on 10 little known facts about Freud’s paintings.