Christie’s announce that they will offer Woman Smiling, 1958-59, by Lucian Freud (b.1922) at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 28 June 2011 in London (estimate: £3.5 million to £4.5 million). A landmark portrait described by esteemed art critic Robert Hughes as the turning point in the artist’s career, it is the only single portrait of Suzy Boyt, the woman who was to mother four of the artist’s children. It is the most significant work by Freud to be offered at auction since Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold at Christie’s New York in May 2008 for $33.6 million – a world record price for a work by a living artist.
Formerly in collection of Mrs. Ian Fleming, the wife of the author best known for creating the British spy James Bond, it is now being offered from an Important European Private collection in which it has resided since 1985. Mrs. Fleming was an important early patron of Freud and subject of his paintings. She was the first owner and the seller of Woman Smiling when it last appeared at auction at Christie’s in 1973, selling for £5,040.
At the same sale on 28 June, Christie’s will offer 5 drawings by Lucian Freud from the Collection of Kay Saatchi - the most important group of works on paper by the artist ever offered at auction (separate release available on request). Christie’s will show Woman Smiling together with the 5 works on paper at an exhibition in Moscow on 2 and 3 April – the first significant exhibition of works by Lucian Freud to take place in Russia.
Francis Outred, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe: “Lucian Freud is not only the world’s most valuable living artist, but is celebrated the world over as one of the artistic giants of the Post-War era; we are thrilled to be handling one of his most important paintings, ‘Woman Smiling’. This is the work that pioneered the style of painting for which he is most praised and recognised, using thick, expressionist brushstrokes and swathes of impasto to build a human physicality. Freud has here literally sculpted in paint the flickering smile into an enigmatic, fleeting presence.
Over the last decade we have seen huge growth in the global appetite for works by Freud and we have sold 8 of his ten most expensive works at auction. Christie’s have regularly toured and exhibited work in Asia and the US and we are excited to be showing this portrait, together with the 5 exceptional works on paper from the Kay Saatchi collection, in Moscow at the beginning of April – the first significant exhibition of his work in Russia.”
Woman Smiling, is a tender portrait of Freud’s former prize-winning Slade pupil and lover, Suzy Boyt. It represents the only existing single portrait of the woman who was to mother four of the artist’s children and whose friendship was to last many decades. She appears sitting with bashful eyes, radiating with a youthful smile and projecting the affection that existed between the artist and sitter. As Lucian Freud once said, ‘Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter…do so in order to translate life into art almost literally, as it were…The painter makes real to others his innermost feelings about all that he cares for’ (L. Freud, ‘Some Thoughts on Painting’ Encounter, July 1954).
From the 1950s onwards Freud devoted himself almost exclusively to oil paint. From this time, Freud’s practice began to focus almost solely on portraitures and nudes of the people in his life: friends, family, lovers, fellow painters, and his children. At first this meant working with careful contours and empirical precision after the Neo-classical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but later this evolved into a more expressive and painterly mark making influenced by the 16th century painter Franz Hals. Woman Smiling represents the exact moment when he moved from the initial flatter painterly approach which followed his drawings to the more sculpted approach. Described by Robert Hughes as ‘the turning point’ in Freud’s career, Woman Smiling (1958-1959) employs a coarse hog’s hair brush to create richly textured impasto that perfectly expresses the light and modulation of the subject's face. This has become a celebrated hallmark of Freud's art ever since.
The context of these works together provides fascinating insight into the pioneering development of the themes and techniques which have come to dominate Freud's art. He focused almost exclusively on drawing in the 1940s but very few complete drawings still exist. The selection of drawings from the Kay Saatchi collection represent the exquisite breadth of Freud's investigations of the medium at the time. From the arrestingly simple pencil line drawing of 'Bobo' Russell, his friend at Bryanston, in Boy with Pipe to the extraordinary series of highly analytical and detailed, yet characterised studies of animals in a variety of mediums, conte, watercolour, gouache and ink, one can see the eye of an incredibly precocious artist in his early 20s taking flight. He acquired the animals from Palmers Pet Shop in Camden around the corner from his Paddington studio at Abercorn Place and filled his studio. This would appear to be the first examples of Freud's investigation into bodily presence.
The five exquisitely rendered drawings by Lucian Freud to be offered from the collection of Kay Saatchi are:
- Rabbit on a Chair, 1944 (estimate: £300,000 to £400,000)
- Dead Bird, 1943 (estimate: £220,000 to £280,000)
- Dead Monkey, circa 1944 (estimate: £150,000 to £200,000)
- The Sleeping Cat, circa 1943-44 (estimate: £100,000 to £150,000)
- Boy with a Pipe, 1943 (estimate: £80,000 to £120,000)
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Images available on request
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- International exhibition dates for Smiling Woman and 5 drawings by Freud from the collection of Kay Saatchi:
Russia 2 to 3 April - Spiridonov House, Moscow
Christie’s New York 7 to 11 May
Christie’s Paris 24 to 30 May
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