Artist’s Model Sue Tilley

Sue Tilley appears in Lucian Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (a painting that recently sold for $33.6 million).

Obviously, this site is devoted to artist’s models who lived mainly in the Victorian era. But Tilley gives unique insight into the experience of modeling, having posed for long periods for many months. The Art & Architecture blog at The Guardian has published a riveting piece on Tilley: Sue Tilley and the eye of the muse. I was thrilled to see Elizabeth Siddal mentioned, being that I’m a wee bit obsessed with her tale.

Tilley has spoken of the exhaustion of posing for long periods, and has said that the first time she met Freud she was mortified “when I got there and he told me to take my clothes off. For the first picture I had to lie on the floorboards in a most uncomfortable position, with Leigh [Bowery] and Nicola, the woman he married, and a dog. I was in agony and I thought about giving up. But we work hard in my family, so I stuck it for the whole nine months.” The fact that she says she was in “agony” mirrors Siddal’s experience, but there is something so active and punchy about Tilley’s language, that it seems very difficult to imagine her doing anything that she didn’t want to do. In the portrait itself, we can also see the artist moving a world away from the idealised, dreamy view of womanly flesh that once signalled an artist was painting his muse.

The Guardian also ran a brilliant article in which Tilley chooses her favorite portraits of women, sharing what draws her to them. Among her favorites is Ophelia, one of my own personal faves.   Read the article here, image slideshow is here.

1 thought on “Artist’s Model Sue Tilley”

  1. What a great bit of news. Thanks for sharing it! I don’t think I could ever pose for such long periods. It’s amazing how much patience artists’ models have. I’m still in disbelief about the account of Siddal posing for Ophelia–there’s no way on earth anyone could induce me to pose in a tub of chilly water for hours on end!.


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