£600,000 to see Cherie in the nude

London gallery selling painting based on a 1972 sketch of Tony Blair's wife

Cherie Blair paid a private visit to an art gallery this week to be reminded of what she looked like in the nude more than 30 years ago. There, hanging on the wall, is an artist's sketch of her naked form on fading brown paper, and a painting based on the sketch.

The painting, Striding Nude, Blue Dress, by Euan Uglow was scheduled to go on public display in 2006 but was withdrawn at the last minute. It is now on display and listed for sale at a Mayfair art gallery in London, with a price tag of £600,000.

The sketch, which is also on show at the Browse & Darby gallery, has already been sold for £4,000. The Blairs are speculated to have bought the sketch, but the gallery is keeping mum.

"It's the policy of the gallery that we keep our buyers' names secret. A lot of them don't want their names to be revealed," the gallery owner, Charles Bradstock, said.

"There has been a very good reaction to both works," he added. "We had a packed private viewing. Cherie Blair came before the private viewing to see them. She was interested, because she had never seen them before. They brought back memories. Her husband wasn't with her." Uglow, who died in 2000 aged 68, was noted for his slow, methodical way of working, which involved taking dozens of measurements of his subjects.

He specified that the drawing and painting should not go on public show while Tony Blair was prime minister.

Cherie Booth met Uglow through the future lord chancellor Derry Irvine, who was head of the chambers where she and Tony Blair received their barrister training. The Blairs' oldest child is named Euan.

The drawing dates from 1972, when its subject was aged 22. It was made soon after she had graduated from the LSE and depicts a young woman's naked body, although Uglow did not sketch the subject's head.

The proof that Cherie Booth was the model is that her name is written alongside the drawing, with what was then her London home telephone number.

Uglow used the sketch as the basis for his Striding Nude, Blue Dress. He added a short blue dress to the work that was unfastened all the way down the front and also placed a different model's head on the body.

"The problem was that Cherie was a struggling lawyer at the time and Uglow was a famously slow painter," Mr Bradstock said. "She couldn't spare enough time for him to complete the painting, so he used another model."

Several buyers had shown an interest in the painting, he said, but in these straitened times they were thinking the purchase over before committing themselves.

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