£100,000 Freud painting put in crusher by Sotheby's man

Kate Watson-Smyth
Friday 28 April 2000 00:00 BST

Lucian Freud has long been regarded as one of Britain's greatest living artists, and auctioneers at Sotheby's were delighted when one of his paintings came up for sale at their august institution.

But two porters at the Bond Street auction house did not quite see it that way and when it arrived they threw it into a giant crushing machine, where it was destroyed. Yesterday Sotheby's was coy but it is understood the porters were not making a critical evaluation on Freud's artistic technique. The plant study, valued at £100,000, arrived in a wooden case the porters put out with the rubbish, believing it to be empty. The mistake was realised after the painting had apparently failed to arrive. An inquiry ensued, leading to the discovery that security cameras had captured its fate.

A Sotheby's spokesman said: "It's an extremely unfortunate situation and we have taken ... steps to prevent it happening again", adding that the owner would be compensated.

He refused to comment on the fate of the porters, saying it was an internal matter, although they have not been sacked. "It was a study rather than a complete painting and was worth around £100,000," was all he would add.

Freud, born in 1922, is famed for his portraits and his nudes are among the most celebrated. In recent years the painter's works have fetched £3.5m, while the £2.8m for his Naked Portrait with Reflections set a record as the highest price for a contemporary work sold in Europe.

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