From Muse to Artist: "All Too Human" at Tate Britain
By Iona Bielby
Tate Britain’s new exhibition, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, is a celebration of what it means to be physically and psychologically human. Described as ‘brutal, tender, and bizarre,’ by The Guardian, this is truly a show not to miss. The exhibition includes major artists like Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, and Francis Bacon. But what the exhibition’s website fails to mention is the focus on the works of Celia Paul, who may also be recognised as Lucian Freud’s muse in Girl in a Striped Nightshirt (1983-85).
The British painter, Celia Paul, is the former partner of Lucian Freud. They met when Freud was a visiting tutor at the Slade School of Fine Art, where Paul was a student at the time. She was 18 and he was 55. In an interview with The New York Times, Paul described the infatuation she had with the ‘beauty of his art and his courtship… he was tender, and very, very gentle.’
After four decades of Freud’s partner, muse, and mother to their child, Paul describes herself as not a portrait painter, but an autobiographer, encompassing the themes of All Too Human, which aim to explore the simultaneous brutality and beauty of the human spirit. Paul’s work captures the elusive qualities between the soft and the sobering. In her New York Times interview, Paul stated, ‘I paint my life and my family. I paint the presence of people I know intimately.’ Such intimacy can be seen through the artist’s oeuvre. Paul’s work haunts viewers and challenges the relationship between body and spirit, as manifested through the monochrome colours, hints of light, and loose bush strokes.
One may wonder why Celia Paul’s work never received more recognition. Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Hilton Als, discussed Paul with The New York Times, describing her as a precocious girl who entered ‘the male-dominated woods of the art world, and they made sure that she got lost in it.’ Mr. Als continues that Paul did not have ‘that desire to kill other people off in order to exist,’ making the overlooking of her art an, unfortunately, understandable occurrence.
All Too Human marks deserving exposure for Celia Paul, whose work will also be showcased in New Haven, Connecticut at the Yale Center for British Art from April to August of 2018. Hilton Als will curate the exhibition, which will reflect their close though transatlantic friendship. Ultimately, Paul’s works will continue to confront viewers with their ‘intimacy and inwardness.’
Although these exhibitions create an exciting buzz around Celia Paul and her link to Lucien Freud, it must be recognised that she is an artist in her own right—and not just the former partner of a canonical male artist. To publicise her as such would be to diminish her as an artist. The dynamic between Freud and Paul’s work is an interesting one, making the appeal of curating them in the same show intriguing. All Too Human will surely make viewers contemplate the ethics behind comparing the former muse with her former partner’s works. But perhaps most importantly, All Too Human will be a testament to the equality of their artistry—it will, as the exhibition’s website promises, capture ‘sensuous, immediate and intense experience of life in paint.’
"All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life" will be running at the Tate Britain until 27th Aug. 2018. Buy your tickets here.
"Celia Paul." Yale Center for British Art. April 03, 2018. Accessed March 08, 2018. https://britishart.yale.edu/exhibitions/celia-paul.
Nayeri, Farah. "An Artist's Muse Steps Out of the Shadows With Paintings of Her Own."
The New York Times. March 05, 2018. Accessed March 08, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/arts/design/celia-paul-lucian-freud-tate.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fdesign.
Tate. "All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life – Exhibition at Tate Britain." Tate. Accessed March 08, 2018. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/all-too-human.