Lucian Freud in L.A.

The largest show ever of his works

Since 1998, when critic Robert Hughes declared Lucian Freud "the greatest living realist painter," the accolade has seemed to accompany every mention of the now 80-year-old British artist. But calling Lucian Freud a realist is like saying his grandfather Sigmund Freud was simply a doctor. Through extremely intense, lifelong observation of outward reality ("Sometimes when I've been staring too hard I've noticed that I could see the circumference of my own eye," Lucian has said), both men consistently found deeper inner truths.

On February 9, the largest show ever of Freud's works (seen last fall in London) opens at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. On display is the full range of his stunning omnibus: the early, tight, hothouse psychological dramas; the looser mid-sixties domestic portraits suffused with dread, like Pinter on canvas; and the grand fleshy nudes, particularly portraits of the late performance artist Leigh Bowery and his friend "Big Sue." (Freud's most famous painting, the controversial 2001 Portrait of the Queen, remains at home in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace.)

In his best work, Freud not only delineates the sitter's character—whether fearful, combative, resigned—but also repeatedly injects himself into his thick brushstrokes. He peers so intently, and for so long (portraits take several months), that his artistic vision encompasses the very act of seeing. "My work is purely autobiographical," he has asserted unapologetically. "It is about myself and my surroundings."