Anxious Pleasures: Lucian Freud: Paintings and Prints at the Norton Museum of Art

Strong stuff, this newly opened show at the Norton. No joy ride, except for the great pleasure of the artist's command and penetrating insight.

"Lucian Freud: Paintings and Prints" is a compact exhibition of late oils and earlier etchings by the grandson of Sigmund. The images are full of strong lines and deep textures, odd poses askew, like psychic x-rays of anxiety and distress.

German-born British painter Freud (1922-2011) may be best-known for portraiture, which predominates at the Norton show. As he matured, in the '50s, he switched (on the advice of Francis Bacon) from sable to hog's-hair brushes, and his work took on a thickly oiled character, layered in tempestuous strokes.

"I paint people," Freud said, "not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be." And the evidence is here.

"Only connect," writer E.M. Forster famously said. Freud's subjects in this show do not; all gazes but one are averted. The sole exception is The New Yorker (2006); the man has the sorrowful gaze of your oncologist with some bad news. And like that news, the truth may hurt, but is no less true for that.

Just around the corner from the Freud show, in an adjoining room, is the companion exhibition "Circa 1960: Figure and Form." It boasts a selection of recent acquisitions and loans to the Norton. A moving bouquet of representational work, it's like an elegy to the last American postwar period of purely painterly concerns, on the cusp of the great explosion of pop and the heroic leap into minimalism and conceptual art.

Highlights include Fairfield Porter's Porch in Maine, a meditation on the blank, lush life of WASP comfort and loss; a pair of Richard Diebenkorn landscapes, with their broad planes of pastel; and the gorgeous little Willem DeKooning Study for "Woman."

The Porter rubs shoulders with Wayne Thiebaud's creamy, dreamy Neapolitan Pie (1963), its essence of sweet nothing a hint of the irony and hermeticism that came later in the decade. Both shows make demands on the viewer, but whatever you give, you'll take much more away.

"Lucian Freud: Paintings and Prints" closes on September 1 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Visit norton.org.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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