Portrait on a White Cover (2002-3) by Lucian Freud

New record set for a Lucian Freud painting

Sotheby’s achieved a new British high for the great painter in London last night with this spectacular 2002-3 work

In 2002, the great British painter Lucian Freud chose the 31-year-old Tate employee, Sophie Lawrence, as his subject, because, Freud said, she was "reliable and punctual". Punctuality was important to the British painter who would begin work at 7am sharp. Late arriving sitters at his Holland Park studio were ocasionally given a second chance - never a third.

Freud’s portrait of Lawrence, entitled Portrait on a White Cover, led Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction last night in London, selling for £22.5m ($29.8m) – a new record for a Freud work sold in the British capital.

However, the hammer price is still far less than $56.2m, the record set for a Freud work, set when the Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) sold at Christie’s in New York back in 2015. Nevertheless, it remains a remarkable sum for a remarkable painting – one of Freud’s great last nudes, which the then 80-year-old artist created during an 8-month period in the winter of 2002-3.



Freud divided his models into day and night sitters; Lawrence was a night subject, painted under electric light, and would pose for the painter for four to six hours each evening, usually from 7pm until 11pm.

Lawrence – who met Freud when the Tate was preparing for his 2002 retrospective, and is now a married NHS speech and language therapist known as Sophie Church – told the Daily Telegraph, “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.”

Nevertheless, she feels she has changed since the work was completed. "'It's both just like me and also absolutely apart from me," she says, "and it reminds me so much of Lucian and that time." 

To see Freud’s work in its entirety, look out for news of our groundbreaking monograph on the artist, which we will publish this autumn. Meanwhile, for more blue-chip depictions of the human body get Body of Art.