Freud's 'Big Sue' expected to fetch £18m at auction

A life-size painting by Lucian Freud which has never been seen publicly in Britain is expected to sell for up to £18m, making it the most expensive work by a living artist at auction.

The work, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping – which features a Jobcentre worker fondly known as "Big Sue", the subject of several masterpieces by Freud – was painted in 1995. Because it was sold privately at the time, it has never before appeared at auction.

Christie's, which is selling the piece in New York next month, called it "the most important work by Lucian Freud" and predicted it could smash the current world auction record for a work by a living artist, held by Jeff Koons's Hanging Heart which fetched £11.3m last year. Before then, Damien Hirst had held the title for Lullaby Spring, which sold for £9.6m, also last year.

The portrait's subject, Sue Tilley, is now 51. She posed for Freud for four years in the early 1990s after being introduced to him by the Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, who was himself the subject of several large scale portraits by Freud in the 1990s. Bowery recommended several sitters, attempting to find models whose dramatic physicality would appeal to him. Freud, 85, had responded with great enthusiasm to Bowery's "bulky" form and that is what is said to have led the performance artist to consider his friend as a potential model.

Freud first painted the subject in 1993, in a work which shows her lying in an uncomfortable pose on the bare floor.

Ms Tilley, who lives in London and posed for Freud on her days off from her job at the central London Jobcentre, said it was her "favourite" work and would buy it herself if she could. She has previously speculated about why she may have been selected by Freud as a model, saying: "I think he probably picked me because he got value for money. He got a lot of flesh."

Speaking of when she wentfor her first sitting, she said: "I was mortified when I got there and he told me to take my clothes off."

Before the artist started working on the portraits of Ms Tilley, he covered her tattoos with fresh-coloured paint, because "he adores flesh so much."

The auction record for a Freud is £9.3m, set in November 2007 for IB and her Husband.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power