lady painting

 

Sep 2002 Journal

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An inexplicable void

Risking the charge of Jewish megalomania yet again, I assert that Britain's greatest figurative painter and her greatest playwright - i.e. Lucian Freud and Tom Stoppard - are both Jews as well as refugees. Not that one would have guessed as much from their work, however!

The 150-odd paintings and etchings on display in Tate Britain's Lucian Freud exhibition present the fruit of six decades' work. The painter's skill is hugely impressive, though I found his unvaryingly sombre, not to say joyless, cast of mind discomfiting.

But that is neither here nor there. My point is that a visitor from Mars could not possibly have deduced from the oeuvre where Freud - in the current catchphrase - was coming from. Here is someone who at eleven experienced traumatic uprooting and displacement into an alien environment - and who still (as journalists have pointed out) retains a German accent. How, I ask, can all this, not to mention the encompassing Jewish drama of the last century, the echoes of which still resonate in this, fail to find an echo in a single one of Freud's painting?

By the same token, I fail to understand why no single line in Tom Stoppard's prodigious output of plays hints at the author's Jewish origins. Of course, a childhood spent in the India of the Raj must have obscured his emerging sense of identity - but half a century has elapsed in the interim. Interestingly enough, the theme of exile permeates Stoppard's latest trio of plays - currently being staged at the National Theatre - which focus on prominent Russians who fled Tsarist rule for political reasons. Could the trilogy, I wonder hopefully, be a step on Stoppard's road towards grappling with the Jews' perennial experience of exile?
Richard Grunberger

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