Freudian background to Sotheby’s sale of portrait of Bernadine Coverley

Bernardine Coverley, daughter of Irish parents who ran a pub in Brixton, met the painter, Lucian Freud when she was 16 and he was 20 years her senior.

He had already been twice married and had fathered a number of children. She became mother of their daughters, Bella and Esther, and moved with them to Morocco after the relationship ended. 

The story of their lifestyle in Marrakesh was told in Esther Freud’s novel Hideous Kinky, later made into a film in which Coverley was played by Kate Winslet. Freud and Coverly died within four days of each other in July 2011.

They had remained close. His portrait of her pregnant with Bella, aged 17, is at auction for the first time at Sotheby’s in London on February 10. It is estimated at £7m-£10m (€9m-€13m).

Much has been written about Freud’s famously numerous partners — but little is known of this relationship with Coverly, although her daughters were close to Freud for most of their childhood — a most unusual aberration by the artist, who was famously distant from most of his 14 offspring.

This artwork opens a window onto a meaningful moment in his and Coverley’s affair. It embodies the singular tenderness he felt for Bernadine.

Their time together was relatively brief, but it was critical. It marked the beginning of a life-long bond and, for Freud, a new approach to painting.

“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”, their daughter Bella said. “I think he was undoubtedly the love of her life”.

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.


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