NEW YORK (AFP) — "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping," a nude by artist Lucian Freud, sold for more than 34 million dollars (22 million euros) in New York Tuesday, becoming the most expensive work ever by a living artist.
The Christie's sale busted the record held by "Hanging Heart," by American artist Jeff Koons, which fetched 23.4 million dollars (15.1 million euros) at Sotheby's in New York late last year.
The 1995 oil painting of a corpulent woman curled naked and sleeping on a sofa was touted ahead of time as the headliner for Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art sales.
Christie's has raked in 348 million dollars (226 million euros) for its spring sales, the auction house announced late Tuesday, demonstrating for the second consecutive week, after robust impressionist sales at Sotheby's and Christie's last week, that the faltering US economy has not gutted the international art market.
Of 57 works on offer in Tuesday's contemporary art sale at Christie's, 95 percent sold. Seventy percent were snapped up by US collectors, 26 percent by Europeans and four by Asians, according to Britt Corvy, an organizer of Tuesday's sale.
Thirty-five percent of the artworks sold for more than their estimated price, and 11 percent for less, he said.
A 1952 Mark Rothko painting sold for more than 50 million dollars (32 million euros) to an anonymous buyer, to applause in the auction hall.
Several works by Andy Warhol sold well, notably "Double Marlon" (1966), a silkscreened double image of actor Marlon Brando on a motorcycle that fetched over 32 million dollars (21 million euros).
But among the disappointments, Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for Self Portrait," estimated to fetch 25 to 35 million dollars, sold for 28 million (18 million euros), commission included.
Christie's called "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" the most important Lucian Freud to come to market, and art experts had expected the painting to fetch up to 33.5 million dollars (21 million euros) at Tuesday's sale.
Its subject, Sue Tilley, has been interviewed extensively in the US and British media, telling how she was paid just 40 dollars to pose for the painter but immensely enjoyed the experience.
Tilley, nicknamed "Big Sue", joked she was the first nude pin-up to grace the front page of the Financial Times newspaper, which carried a photograph of the painting last month.
"I can't quite believe it, to be honest," she told the BBC.
Tilley, who now manages a job centre in London, said she was introduced to Freud by a friend and became his muse, often going for lunch with the artist before posing.
Freud, the 85-year-old grandson of pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was born in Berlin but his family fled Germany as the Nazis rose to power and he became a British citizen.
He has said: "I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.
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