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.
"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."
British painter, Lucian Michael Freud was born on December 8, 1922, and is the grandson of Sigmund Freud.
Freud met his muse, Sue Tilley, in a nightclub 20 years ago and spent nine months painting her.
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.