Lucian Freud’s most famous and iconic subject will be offered as the highlight of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary sale on May 13. Benefits Supervisor Resting is regarded as Freud’s ultimate tour de force, a life-size masterwork in the grand historical tradition of the female nude, painted obsessively with intense scrutiny and abiding truth.
This bold and extraordinary example of the stark power of Lucian Freud’s realism reveals his unique ability to capture the reality of the human form in all its natural force. Chosen by Freud as the cover of the definitive monograph about the artist, Benefits Supervisor Resting was included by the artist in every major museum exhibition devoted to Freud, including Tate Britain, London, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the recent survey The Facts and the Truth: Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Benefits Supervisor Resting is poised to break the previous auction record for the artist achieved in 2008 with another portrait of the same sitter, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which sold for $33.6 million, setting a record at the time for any living artist.
“Benefits Supervisor Resting is recognized internationally as Freud’s masterpiece and proclaims him as one of the greatest painters of the human form in history alongside Rembrandt and Rubens,” states Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Art at Christie’s. “This painting is a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body. The sitter, Sue Tilley, is calm and confident, relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She is very much in control, taking on the artist and the viewer. A contemporary take on the Odalisque and the fertility goddess, with her head flung back, she exudes an intriguing ambiguity, implying ecstasy, defiance and the deep exhale of peacefulness. Freud described Sue Tilley as an extremely feminine sitter, and he has painted her with an objectivity and sensuality that is brought alive by the incredible use of brushwork and color harmony. He observed every inch of her with an uncritical eye almost daily for more than 9 months. The surface is amazing and almost sculptural in its layering of color.”
Lying in resplendent repose in the painter’s modest London studio, Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Resting is regarded as one of the most remarkable paintings of the human figure ever produced. Featuring Sue Tilley, a local government worker from London and one of the artist’s favorite sitters, this extraordinary portrait demonstrates Freud’s mastery of the painterly medium as he records the subtle nuances of Tilley’s figure with astute observation and technical brilliance. Painted over a grueling nine month period in 1994, with Tilley sitting for long hours four or five times a week, this remarkably candid portrait is a stunning essay on Freud’s patient painterly practice, in which he undertakes an exhaustive examination of the human form and renders every curve, fold, blemish and contour of Tilley’s body with deeply evocative force.
Sue Tilley was introduced to Freud by the performance artist and designer, Leigh Bowery, another of Freud’s great subjects. Tilley, the author of Bowery’s biography, was nervous on first meeting Freud but like most of his sitters grew more comfortable and confident as she came to know him. After Freud’s first picture of her, Evening in the Studio of 1993, which was originally to have also included Bowery and for which she was forced to lie on the bare floor in an extremely uncomfortable pose, Freud bought the dilapidated sofa that appears in this painting for her to sit on. “I am only interested in painting the actual person, in doing a painting of them, not in using them to some ulterior end of art. For me, to use someone doing something not native to them would be wrong. If I am putting someone in a picture I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their way: that way they are there not to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of my picture and I am recording them.”
Freud reworked the traditional theme of the nude, using a strong, uncompromising technique. Presented exposed and naked on a sofa set down on a bare wooden floor, this portrait and interior is both monumental and magnificent. Bruce Bernard, picture editor, photographer and friend of the artist stated: the portraits of Sue Tilley “are major contributions to the sum of Western painting of the nude, and may even put the final stop to the classical tradition.” The undeniable and almost overwhelming physical presence of Tilley’s relaxed and confident naked form demonstrates Freud’s extraordinary depth and apparently infinite richness of stark reality. Going on to state that it is “truthfulness as revealing and intrusive, rather than rhyming and soothing.”
“The task of the artist,” Freud once declared, “is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn’t free, it can’t do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest.”