Monday, May 19, 2008


Benefits Supervisor Sleeping
~Lucian Freud

This past week, Lucian Freud's 1995 nude portrait of Sue Tilley, a former Benefits Supervisor, made history. It was revealed yesterday that Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire and owner of the Chelsea Football Club in the UK, was reportedly the mystery collector who snapped up Freud's painting last week.

Freud's 1995 portrait, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was auctioned by Christie's in New York City for more than $34 million, setting a world record and making it the world's most expensive painting by a living artist. The painting has been lauded as one of the most important of our age.

Lucian Freud

British painter, Lucian Michael Freud was born on December 8, 1922, and is the grandson of Sigmund Freud.

"Freud was born in Berlin in December 1922, and came to England with his family in 1933. He studied briefly at the Central School of Art in London and, to more effect, at Cedric Morris's East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Following this, he served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941. His first solo exhibition, in 1944 at the Lefevre Gallery, featured the now celebrated The Painter's Room 1944. In the summer of 1946, he went to Paris before going on to Greece for several months. Since then he has lived and worked in London."

Freud met his muse, Sue Tilley, in a nightclub 20 years ago and spent nine months painting her.

Sue Tilley

Sue Tilley, who was indeed a benefits supervisor at the time of the painting, has since been promoted to manager of a Jobcentre Plus in central London.

Tilley is thrilled with the attention Freud's painting of her has attracted.

“My life’s changed overnight,” she says. “I’m beside myself, but then lovely things are always happening to me. Still, I’m not surprised - in a way, I always thought this might happen. I love that painting.”

For Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, Freud bought the sofa for her to rest on. “It was lovely and comfy, and I just lay on it, really, for nine months.” she continues “Sometimes he’d take me out for lunch, which I liked, and we’d work again in the afternoon. It was quite exhausting, just lying there. I know it sounds silly, but it was.“

To my eyes, the painting is absolutely beautiful and I am in awe not only of Freud's remarkable skill but also of Tilley's lack of compunction in baring her body to Freud, warts and all. Freud's rendering of Tilley is a masterpiece.

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Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing this. Hope it has an effect on all the size 0 wannabes who can know art isn't just about small folk.

Medusa said...

Your hope is mine also, 2Big.

Thanks so much for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the painting, it could even have a negative triggering effect (as in - never to go that far..). But for art's sake it is really very beautiful. Art is far from real life and everyday anyway, because it is a certain artists's chosen vision of a certain subject, and nothing to do with a certain person's body image. I paint all kind of people frequently. But still, i do really admire freud, all his paintings ar fantastic. i love his thick paint strokes and contrasted view with very direct lighting :)

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's an eye-openingly honest portrait! The sitter is brave to bare her body against the current beauty ideal and put herself out there, and the artist is obviously a free-thinker, and willing to challenge us to think about what is "normal" or "taboo" or "beautiful" to the mass mind when every thing is really in the eye of the beholder..

Very cool.

Commenter above - that's a really rude thing to say! She is not "negative inspiration" and it has been found that in fact being rather fat lowers your chance of dying from various diseases. It can actually be healthier, so long as you aren't so obese you put your heart at risk. Whether she is beautiful is personal opinion. Obviously she isn't posed to look glamorous. I don't think the painting is meant to be a warning against getting too fat. Dig a little deeper maybe..

Anonymous said...

I think this painting is about vulnerability, not size. Tilley's size is simply a reminder of how unique we are, and whether or not we're able to bare our unique (and real) selves to the world. There is also a fetal quality to her pose which makes her seem vulnerable. The couch is like a womb, her extended hand like an umbilical cord. It is as if leaving the couch would mean her birth into a judgmental, and often cruel world. I think all important works address fundamental ideas. It's a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing its history, here.