More on Lucian Freud’s Big Sue Painting

The Freakonomics Blog has interviewed the arts writer Olav Velthuis and the University of Chicago professor David Galenson about the price paid for Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping“. I found it interesting that the $33.6 million paid for the painting would keep the United States in gasoline for 20 minutes.

Here’s a couple quotes from the interview here.

“Freud’s paintings are much more interesting in person than in reproduction; they are built up of layers of paint, over the course of dozens of sittings, and a lot of their interest comes from subtle visual effects involving the texture of the paint.” David Galenson

“To put it mildly, it is striking that art still fetches these record prices. I had expected the art market to collapse even before the financial crisis started. Of course, what’s difficult about prices for art is that they have no ‘fundamental value,’ unlike, for instance, real estate prices or stocks.” Olav Velthuis

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. What a strange quote from Velthuis. Any commodity is only worth what someone will pay for it. Stocks and property have no “fundamental value” in and of themselves. Stock crashes and property booms. Art, just like these commodities, has a track record, sales numbers and price increases over time, visible supply and demand based on the artists output and number of collectors. Can Velthuis not see that perhaps Freud’s painting is predicted to hold its value well in view of his career so far and possibly increase in future (in view of his age, I hestitate to say) so in a volatile financial environment (in the US anyway) perhaps an artist with a strong track record is seen as a relatively good investment?

  2. Good point that art has no fundamental value. This makes it the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. Paying OOT sums for art at famous auction houses shouts “I’ve made it big. I’m so rich I can afford to waste a fortune on nonsense like this. Wow, am I an impressive guy!”

    This attitude might also explain why huge fortunes are being paid for modern art junk, rather than for quality art from long-dead masters. You won’t find a George Stubbs going for many millions. You’d be lucky if it fetches more than a few hundred thousand pounds, the price of an average house in Ghetto London!

    Buying junk at hugely inflated prices is as conspicuous as your consumption can get. It reminds me of a line in The Producers: “Flaunt it while you got it” (on seeing a mere Rolls Royce driving past).

    Another good point on keeping the USA in fuel for X minutes with the cost of “Big Sue”. Think of the carbon footprint of its Russian buyer, the second richest person in Britain!

    A few days ago I posted a graphic combining “Big Sue” and a Sudanese child starving to death. The post also has a chart showing the carbon footprint per person per country. Australia is second in this league table of planet plundering nations. The USA is tops, UK third. I think this combination of graphics got my point across.

    Very interesting that your last Aussie PM got voted out of office for not being green enough. As in Britain, the voters are waking up to the problem of global warming long before its politicians.

    P.S. I hope you’re not overweight!

  3. That’s interesting.. art is a commodity.. art isnt a commodity ;-)

    I think Freud is a master and will remain one for quite some time. I’m not so sure about some of the other artists on the “most expensive artists at auction” list though.

    Some famous artist said something like, Artists just produce things that people don’t really need..

    which is very true.. But what a crappy world it would be without art.

    I think the old Aussie PM got the sack because we were all sick of seeing him Ian. And yeah, he only started believing in climate change when he saw it could get him votes.. which was too late for anyone to really care.

    And I am a little out of shape, but I’m not big sue size :-P

  4. It may keep the United States in gasoline for 20 minutes at the moment but in a few months it will probably be 15 minutes. Enjoy it while you can :(

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why was the extended commentary about Art removed from this post?

  6. I’m not sure what youre talking about Anonymous as I can’t remember the “extended commentary” that youre talking about. Maybe it was on this Lucian Freud post.

    I delete comments that are just trying to promote their own sites, are off topic, or are too offensive, but not comments that I don’t agree with. So don’t think that it dissapeared because I didnt agree with it.


  7. Anonymous says:


    It is your site and you may do with it whatever you wish, but you are censoring legitimate discussion on the theory and purpose of Art.

    “I delete comments that are just trying to promote their own sites

    **this does not apply to our comments**

    are off topic

    **neither does this **

    or are too offensive

    **nor this**

    There was no dirty language — your filter catches those. But I do very much dislike everything Lucian Freud sets his hand to, as well as those like him. Were you frightened of being sued for these critical comments?

  8. Anon,
    People can say what they want about Lucian Freud’s work and I would never touch their comments, assuming they havent been abusive in any way.

    I doubt I could be sued for allowing people to express their opinion on an artist. A lot of art critics would be out of work if that was the

    Just because I think he’s one of the greatest painters alive doesnt mean I’m sifting through comments deleting anything that’s critical of him. I like comments that challenge my opinion or make me see things in a new light.

    Did you check This Link Here Anon? I really think it is the Freud post you are looking for as there’s 25+ comments and some are critical of Freud.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Then where did our prior dialogue disappear to? I was very critical of Freud and another reader disagreed. Before we had completed the conversation, you deleted it for none of the reasons you specified.

  10. Well, I dont know Anon. I may have accidentally deleted it, but I doubt it as I do think before I click delete. If it wasnt offensive, wasnt off topic, and wasnt promoting something, I have no explanation for the missing comments. Sorry if you feel censored in any way as that’s not what im trying to do.

    I still think your description of the post and comments sounds like the debate on the “Most Expensive Living Artist – Lucian Freud” post.

    It might help if you use a name or nickname to add comments too as it would be easier for me to remember or find the post. You can remain anonymous, just use a nickname.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “I still think your description of the post and comments sounds like the debate on the “Most Expensive Living Artist – Lucian Freud” post.”

    You are right and I am wrong. You deleted nothing. I confused two posts with similar titles.

    I apologize for my mistake and beg your forgiveness.

  12. No worries Anon. Mistakes happen.

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