There was some sunshine at Sotheby’s London (10 February) despite the gloomy forecast for the London auction season, when Lucian Freud’s ‘Pregnant Girl’ (1960-61) sold for an eye-watering £16.1 million (including buyer’s premium).

Six buyers fought over the portrait of the artist’s teenage lover, Bernadine Coverley. The sale price far surpassed the estimated £7-10 million, which the painting had been expected to fetch.

It depicts a sleeping Coverley when she was pregnant with Bella, her daughter with Freud and now a renowned fashion designer. Oliver Barker, Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s said the work beautifully depicts the couple’s “profound bond”:

“There is arguably no other portrait by Freud that is more gripping, more tender, and more laden with such emotional depth.”

Freud and Coverley first met in 1959 and had another daughter together, the novelist Esther Freud. When the couple separated, Coverley relocated with the two children to Morocco. Esther penned the story of their time in Marrakesh in a book ‘Hideous Kinky’, which was later adapted into a film starring Kate Winslet as Coverley.

The staggering sale price for ‘Pregnant Girl’ still fell short of Freud’s record at auction. This was reached in May 2015 when his life-sized nude ‘Benefits Supervisor Resting’ sold for £35.7 million at in New York.

‘Pregnant Girl’ is one of three rare paintings by Lucian Freud up for auction in London this month. Two portraits of Freud’s daughters, Esther and Isobel, are due to go under the hammer at Christie’s today (11 February).