LONDON.- One of Lucian Freud’s last great nudes, Portrait on a White Cover sold hours ago in Sotheby’s London’s saleroom for £22.5million / $29.8 million, making it the most valuable painting by the artist ever sold in London. The previous highest price for a London auction of the artist’s work was £16.1 million set by Pregnant Girl at Sotheby’s in February 2016.
A late masterpiece, Portrait on a White Cover, painted when the artist was 80 years old, represents the culmination of Freud’s lifelong engagement with the reclining nude. Alongside the self-portrait, the reclining nude was the defining leitmotif of Freud’s career. Across sixty years of painting, innumerable mutations of painterly style, and a multitude of sitters, he returned to this challenging subject time and again. Portrait on a White Cover sits at the pinnacle of this endeavour.
Portrait on a White Cover depicts Sophie Lawrence, who worked for Tate publishing and was spotted by Freud whilst preparing for his Tate retrospective in 2002. This is her only known portrait and there is little written about her in the literature surrounding the artist’s work. Ahead of this sale, she shared her story of sitting for the artist: “I wouldn’t have done it for anyone else, but he is one of the best artists who has ever lived. It was incredibly intimidating, but he made me feel at ease. He was very good at building a rapport with people. I was very fond of him.”
The artist painted only three further reclining nudes before his death in 2011. The painting which immediately preceded Portrait on a White Cover, Naked Portrait 2002 - depicting Kate Moss pregnant - set a new auction record for the artist at £7.3 million when it appeared at auction in 2005. Four of the top five prices for the artist at auction are for reclining nudes.
Oliver Barker fielding bids during Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale, June 2018. Courtesy Sotheby's.