There is an auction on the 10th that everyone is especially excited about. As part of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction; Freud’s famous Pregnant Girl will be up for sale, and is estimated to garner as much as £10 million.
The portrait is that of his lover Barnadine Coverly, the Irish teenager he would have two daughters with, Bella and Esther. Bella, is the bump on the subject of the portrait, who at the time was 17. She lies in repose, the way her head is tilted makes it appear she is asleep, and the angle from which it is painted – slightly above – gives the feeling of the painter watching over her.
Freud had already been married twice when he and the then 16 year old Bernadine met in a pub in Soho, she had come over from Ireland after a difficult childhood where she was sent to a convent aged four – from which she tried to run away twice. This runaway was successful. She found the man who, as Bella says was “undoubtedly the love of her life” and would go on to have an incredible, if brief time with.
The painting, which Sotheby’s have called a ‘defining work of Frued’s ouvre’, was painted by German-born Freud in the 1960s in his studio in west London.
The painting itself is fantastically detailed, thick and endless strokes of paint and light and shade, and the contrasting harsh delicacy with which he paints her skin and slightly open mouth. Sotheby’s Oliver Barker says of it: “The scale of the painting allowed Frued in a new found moment of freedom to execute paintings with the most extraordinary diligence and a level of excavation in the application of paints that was previously unseen.”
Bernadine would go on to leave London after the breakdown of their relationship as there were still some very conservative views on unmarried mothers. She would head to Morocco with her two girls, which inspired the novel Hideous Kinky, written by Esther, that was later turned into a film of the same name starring Kate Winslet.
Other than the painting, which, as Sotheby’s says “opens a window onto the most meaningful moment in the lives of both lovers, embodying the singular tenderness he felt for Bernadine”, little is documented about their relationship; a lot has come from their daughter Bella, who has given an insight into that world. She told the Sunday Telegraph of her mother: “She didn’t talk about the painting but she was proud of it – I could tell by the tone of her voice when she first told me that it was of her pregnant with me in that picture.”
Though Freud was notorious for having many lovers he and Bernadine remained friends all their lives, which, though both full and extraordinary, ended just four days apart in 2011.
We wait with baited breath to see the results!
** Update: The piece sold for £16.1 million / $23.2 million during the Sotheby’s London Evening Auction of Contemporary Art, smashing the pre-sale estimate of £7 million to £10 million and setting a new record for an early painting by the artist.