More lots keep coming out as we enter the final chute into the May sales. Today it’s the return of a major Lucien Freud work to the market on May 13 at Christie’s where many will be watching to see if Freud’s prices can keep up with his peers. The last time a work from this series came up, it was the last gasp of the previous market boom when 1995’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” made $33.6 million when Roman Abramovich bought it.
On the block next month will be “Benefits Supervisor Resting” (1994), one of four painstakingly observed nude studies of the amply proportioned Sue Tilley, then a government employee. It will carry an estimate of $30 million to $50 million. This roughly 5 feet by 5 feet depiction of Ms. Tilley sitting on a battered sofa with her head thrown back is owned by the Boston collector Barbara Lee, whose foundation supports women’s representation in politics and in the arts. Ms. Lee has been guaranteed an undisclosed minimum price. The thickly worked canvas can be seen at Christie’s London from Saturday to April 23. Mr. Freud died in July 2011, and this piece is the first work of his valued at more than $20 million to have come to auction since then. In recent years the auction market for contemporary art has been increasingly dominated by abstraction.
“This will be a good test of where his market is going,” said James Holland-Hibbert, a London dealer who held a loan exhibition of Freud’s early works in 2008. “It will be interesting to see if this style of painting appeals to the buyers who support these sales. Is Freud still a big enough brand?”