Lucian Freud’s tender, luminous portrait of his one-time lover and muse Janey Longman will be offered at auction for the first time in London in March with a £10m to £15m price tag.
The painting has been in the same private British collection since the owners acquired it in 1987, bought, as they put it, “from the easel” through James Kirkman, Freud’s longtime London dealer before the artist was taken on by Acquavella Galleries in 1993. It is being sold—without a guarantee—in the same frame that Freud chose for the work.
Cropped just below her right breast, Girl with Eyes Closed (1986-87) captures Longman’s “quiet contentment”, says Katharine Arnold, the co-head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe, at Christie’s, which is selling the picture. “It’s incredibly serene,” Arnold adds, noting how the work nods to the motif of the sleeping woman throughout art history from Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus to Picasso’s many depictions of a slumbering Marie Thérèse.
It’s one of the most special things I’ve handled in my career.Katharine Arnold, the co-head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe, at Christie’s
Longman, who was a food writer, was the subject of three of Freud’s portraits in total, depicted in Naked Girl (1985-86) and, later, alongside India Jane Birley, the artist and former co-owner of London nightclub Annabel’s, in the canvas Two Women (1992).
Shown in public “sporadically”, as Arnold puts it, Girl with Eyes Closed was included in Freud’s Hirshhorn Museum retrospective in 1987 and, in 2005, in the major survey exhibition at Museo Correr, Venice, curated by William Feaver. “It wasn’t on a permanent exhibition circuit, it was very much loved and lived with,” Arnold adds.
Full-figure female nudes by Freud have achieved his top prices; Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) went for £35.6m in 2015, while Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) sold to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2008 for £17m.
Estimated in the bracket just below, Girl with Eyes Closed nonetheless stands out, Arnold believes. “These paintings are so incredibly rare,” she says. “I think it will appeal tremendously to people, not only to historic Freud collectors but also to international collectors worldwide who may never have looked at Freud. It just has that universality to it. It’s one of the most special things I’ve handled in my career.”