How 'Big Sue' is set to become a record breaker
PUBLISHED: 17:46 17 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:57 07 September 2010
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SHE may not be a classic muse – but Camden Town Jobcentre worker Sue Tilley is causing a bit of a stir in the art world. A painting by Lucian Freud of the 51-year-old, who lives in Augustus Street, is expected to fetch a record £18million
SHE may not be a classic muse - but Camden Town Jobcentre worker Sue Tilley is causing a bit of a stir in the art world.
A painting by Lucian Freud of the 51-year-old, who lives in Augustus Street, is expected to fetch a record £18million at auction.
At 20 stone, Ms Tilley - or "Big Sue" as the artist dubbed her - is a surprising choice for a nude model. But the life-size painting is the talk of the art world and is set to become the most expensive work by a living artist when it goes under the hammer in New York next month.
"I think he picked me because he liked friendly faces. He didn't want to paint strangers," said Ms Tilley. "And I always say with me he got value for money - he got a lot of flesh.
"I was very nervous at first about taking my clothes off - but I soon came to enjoy it. It was a big commitment. Whenever I got days off work, he'd expect me to go round and pose for him. But I was asleep for a lot of the time."
Ms Tilley spent nine months posing for the 1995 painting, entitled Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.
Last Friday, it was put on show at Christie's in London before its sale in New York on May 13.
Ms Tilley said the painting was her favourite by Freud and was astonished at the price tag it is expected to fetch.
"I was completely shocked at the figure to be honest," she said. "People always say, what do you get out of it? But Lucian's not getting that money either - and he deserves it more than I do.
"Lucian paid me but it was never about the money. I often lie on the sofa in the living room watching TV so it's nice to think of me lying in somebody else's living room."
Ms Tilley has various tattoos, including a lily on her upper arm. For various other works, Freud covered them in flesh-coloured paint because he found them vulgar.
Freud gave her one of his paintings, entitled Woman With An Arm Tattoo. It is the only painting that shows the tattoo and Ms Tilley sold it in 2005 for more than £26,000.
Despite the attention she has received this week, Ms Tilley has remained committed to the Jobcentre in Denmark Street, where she has worked for 30 years.
She said she had also done a number of other photo shoots but did not want to be famous.
"When I look at the painting, I don't really see myself," she said. "I mean I know it's me - but it's difficult to see it.
"People don't recognise me when I walk down the street. I'm glad of that."
Christie's believes the work is one of Freud's most important and said there had been a lot of interest from collectors, institutions and private buyers from around the world.
"The painting is the first from an important series in the 1990s which has never been offered at auction before," said a spokesman.
"We have had a good stream of people coming in to see it. We put up the special exhibition because it has been in a private collection and, if it is bought by a private collector, it could be a while before people can see it again."
o Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund, was born in Berlin in December 1922 and came to England with his family in 1933.
o He studied at the Central School of Art and at Cedric Morris's East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing.
o Freud held his first solo exhibition in 1944.
o His subjects are often the people in his life - friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children.
o He says: "I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be."
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