Lucian Freud painting sells for record-breaking £35.8 million

Another record-breaking art auction: what’s going on?

Britain Lucian Freud

A Lucian Freud painting of a nude Jobcentre clerk was auctioned yesterday, raising $56.2 million (£35.8 million), and becoming the most expensive Freud painting ever sold. It's one of a number of record-breaking art sales this week, and demonstrates just how the market for fine art is booming.

Benefits Supervisor Resting was painted in 1994 and shows Sue Tilly (pictured above with the painting in 2012) naked on a sofa. It was sold by Christie's in New York yesterday.

It was the second of four paintings he made of Tilly in his 70s. The third in the series sold in 2008 for $33.6 million - becoming the most expensive painting by a living artist ever to be sold at auction. The incredible rise in value in Freud's work since then means the latest sale fetched an additional $20.4 million.


The price surprised Christie's, which had placed an estimate of between $30 million and $50 million on the painting. Brett Gorvy, International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's, said that it reflected high prices across the sale, adding: "The response that we saw to the sale this evening proves the sophistication, knowledge and competitive urge of many of our top buyers. They were pursuing not just great works but also great collections tonight, and showed they were willing to stretch and stretch some more to have the best."

Brooke Lampley, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art in the Americas for Christie's added that it had been a record-setting week for the global auction market. As we reported earlier this week, the same auction house sold Picasso's Women of Algiers for a world record $179.4 million. The Picasso painting had also risen incredibly in value over recent years: Christie's sold it in 1997 for $31.9 million.

Should you invest?

The global art market as a whole is booming, and last year reached a record of $68 billion. That's double the level during the crash of 2009, and slightly above the previous peak in 2007. On average, prices for contemporary and post-war art have risen 19% in the past year. As a result, Deloitte claims the market is attracting speculators, and that at the moment almost three-quarters of art purchases are made at least partly as an investment.

However, the risks are high, costs are high, and prices are volatile and unpredictable. In addition, massive rises in the cost of the most popular pieces skew the overall performance figures - some experts claim the value of the most expensive works of art is growing at five times the rate of the rest.

They also add that the art market tends to rise and fall with optimism in the rest of the market. So when the market suffers the next bout of misery, we can expect lots of investors to be left with very attractive pictures, and rather less attractive returns.

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Picasso Painting Sets World Record for Art at Auction $179M