The world's record price for a painting by a living artist was set yesterday when the life-sized nude of a largish woman by Sigmund Freud's grandson was sold to an unknown buyer for $33.6 million at Christie's in New York.
Titled "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping," the 1995 work by the 85-year-old Lucian Freud portrays Sue Tilley, now 51, reclining on a dilapidated sofa.
The money, the Freudian connection, the ample nudity, the subject's working class status may suggest a confluence of 21st century cultural themes, but the art world sees the sale only as a hopeful sign of vitality in the face of a slumping world economy. It reflects, according to a Christie's official, the "incredibly healthy" state of the art market.
Recognized as one of the world's great painters, Freud has been a subject of notoriety before. His recent unflattering portrait of Queen Elizabeth was widely criticized. "It makes her look like one of the royal corgis who has suffered a stroke," the editor of an art journal complained.
But another subject, supermodel Kate Moss, painted nude and pregnant in 2002, was quoted as saying she found the artist, then 80, "very cool." Her portrait was sold at Christie's two year later for 3.9 million pounds.