Lucian Freud’s Portrait of Lover

Monday, January 18, 2016

Capturing 17-year-old Bernadine Coverley while pregnant with Bella Freud to be offered at auction for first time.

Lucian Freud’s Portrait of Lover

Capturing 17-year-old Bernadine Coverley while pregnant with Bella Freud to be offered at auction for first time.

On 10 February, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale a painting that not only marks a pivotal moment in the career of Lucian Freud, but that also shines a spotlight on a fascinating but little-known moment in the artist’s life. While much has been written about many of Freud’s amorous liaisons, barely anything is known about his intense, and ultimately transformative, relationship with Bernadine Coverley. The two met when she was just 16, and he was already an established artist, 20 years her senior. Although their time together was relatively brief, it was to prove critical - marking both the beginnings of a life-long bond and, for Freud, a new approach to painting. Pregnant Girl embodies this new approach. Estimated £7-10m, the painting will be a highlight of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 10 February 2016.

Coverley, whose Irish Catholic parents ran the Black Horse pub in Brixton, was sent to a convent boarding school at the age of four. Feeling trapped and despondent under the strict governance of the convent, she twice tried to run away. By her teens, she craved the liberation and excitement of bohemian Soho – an intoxicating underground world of artists, musicians and writers. It was here, in a Soho pub in 1959, where Coverley first met Freud, who was captivated by her natural beauty and free spirit.

Much has been written about Freud’s famously numerous partners - when he first met Coverley, he had already been twice married and had fathered a number of children – but little is known about their relationship. Pregnant Girl opens a window onto the most meaningful moment in the lives of both lovers, embodying the singular tenderness he felt for Bernadine, soon to be the mother of his daughters Bella and Esther. “It must have been a very happy time in her life, being pregnant with the man she loved and him wanting her to be there and paint her”, says their daughter Bella, “I think he was undoubtedly the love of her life.”

After separating from Freud, Coverley left England (and its conservative views on unmarried mothers) with her two small daughters to start a new life in Morocco. The story of their bohemian lifestyle in Marrakesh was immortalised in Esther’s novel “Hideous Kinky”, and later turned into a hit film with Coverley played by Kate Winslet.

Although he was not altogether present in Bella and Esther’s early years, Freud was extremely close with his two daughters, painting both of them several times, including Baby on a Green Sofa (1961), a painting of Bella as a baby resting on the same green sofa in which her mother was portrayed. Remarkably, after two extraordinary lives, Freud and Coverley died within just four days of each other in July 2011.

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Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995.  Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995. Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

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