Our readers will be pleased to know that a vivid portrait of Big Girl Sue Tilley, of London, has recently broken art-world records. It sold at Christie’s for over 33 million American dollars, the most ever given at an auction for a work by a living painter. Lucian Freud created 4 portraits of Tilley in the mid-1990’s. This one, the record-breaker, is called “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping”:
What Francesca likes best about this story is Tilley’s superfantastic fattitude:
The portrait’s sitter, Sue Tilley – now promoted from benefits supervisor to manager of a Jobcentre Plus in central London – is delighted. “My life’s changed overnight,” she says. “I’m beside myself, but then lovely things are always happening to me. Still, I’m not surprised – in a way, I always thought this might happen. I love that painting.”
“The first painting he ever did of me [Evening in the Studio, 1993] was finished while there was a big show of his paintings on at the Whitechapel gallery,” she says. “So they put it up for the last week of the exhibition. I went in there one day and there was a man giving a talk in front of the picture, saying, look at this revolting woman, she’s so fat and disgusting, there’s obviously something wrong with her skin. I just started laughing. The man stopped and asked if there was anything wrong. I said: ‘That’s me you’re talking about,’ and he just looked like he wanted to die. After that I didn’t really mind what people said.
“I’m not the ‘ideal woman’, I know I’m not. But who is? And he never made the skinny ones look any better. He picks out every single little detail.”
Francesca also enjoys this “that will show them, those ridiculous debt-collectors!” tidbit:
Freud gave her one of the portraits, a print. When bailiffs visited Ms Tilley some years ago, demanding items to the value of £700, they were more interested in her electric kettle and household objects than her Freud. When, in desperation, she offered to part with the print, telling them that it would more than cover the money she owed, they laughed at her. In 2005 it was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in London for more than £26,000
So, remember ladies, the fleshier you are, the more your image could be worth millions.