Sleeping by the Lion Carpet
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ssohail's picture


Eat your heart out, Peter Paul Rubens! Your ladies with “rolling flesh” got nothin' on Lucian Freud’s phat portraits of Sue Tilley.

Overwhelming and overpowering are words that come to mind when gazing upon the ponderous flesh of Ms. Tilley. Freud encountered her in the 1990’s at a nightclub and made a muse of her for a series of portraits. You can hear about Sue's experience directly in a talk she gave at the National Portrait Gallery.

In this one, Tilley slumps to one side as the leaden weight of her plentiful form spills over her chair. The muscular, rearing lions painted on the carpet in the background are in direct contrast to Tilley’s inert softness...but these mighty creatures are still dwarfed by Tilley’s mass.

Dunno if Freud is really celebrating the full figured female here in the Dove commercial sense, but he certainly wants to emphasize her crushing weight. Folds upon folds of flesh painted in varying hues of English pastiness wallop the viewer like all-consuming waves. Speaking of pasty skin, Freud was supposedly unhappy with Tilley when she came back from her trip to India all browned up and waited for her tan to subside before he would paint her. 

The steep perspective of the floor adds to the looming quality of Tilley’s figure, who barely seems able to hold up her own weight! Like she herself is exhausted by the sheer size of her. And I suppose it’s only right that so much woman should sell for a whopping $34 million in 1995. Tilley thought that Freud picked her out as a model because “he got a lot of flesh" i.e., people were gonna get their money’s worth when they bought this painting. Looks like Freud had that supply and demand curve all worked out.