A Rare Portrait of Lucian Freud’s Stepson Hits the Auction Block

The portrait, which is expected to sell for up to $7.6 million, is one of Freud's many depictions of his children.

Oil portrait of a man lying down
Lucian Freud, Kai, (1991-1992). Courtesy Christie's

Friends, family and romantic partners dominate the oeuvre of British painter Lucian Freud, whose work often documented his personal relationships.

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His children, who numbered more than a dozen, were especially prominent in his figurative pieces. As Freud once said: “I only paint the people who are close to me, and who closer than my children?” One of his most frequent subjects was Kai, the child of Freud’s lover Suzy Boyt but considered a son by the artist.

An intimate portrait of Kai will hit the auction block next month when Christie's offers up Freud’s 1991-1992 Kai with an estimate between £4 million ($5.1 million) and £6 million ($7.6 million). The work was exhibited in London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1993 for a show that helped accelerate Freud’s career and traveled to both New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Acquired directly from the artist two years later, the heavily layered painting has been in the same private collection for nearly three decades.

Lucian Freud turned his relationships into art

Freud, the grandson of famed neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, met Kai’s mother while she was studying at the Slade School of Art in the 1950s. While the couple had four children together, Freud also maintained a close bond with Kai—he aided the painter in his Holland Park studio, where he at times was reportedly instructed to destroy work Freud was no longer satisfied with, and was at the artist’s side when he died in 2011 at age 88.

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Their close relationship can be seen in Freud’s work throughout the years. Kai is the centerpiece of his 1981 Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), a family portrait inspired by French painter Jean Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot content. Christie’s sold the monumental work for more than $86 million in 2022 during its auction of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection, establishing a new artist record for Freud in the process. Lucian Freud, who considered using Kai as the subject of his 1995 Girl in the Attic Doorway before realizing he was too tall for the piece, also depicted his stepson in an etching from the early 1990s, according to Christie’s.

The auction house will exhibit Freud’s portrait of Kai in London before it heads to auction on March 7 as part of Christie’s 20th/21st Century Sale. Other highlights from the upcoming sale include an early David Hockney pool painting with an estimate in the region of £16 million ($20 million) and a painting from Claude Monet’s Seine River series that is expected to realize more than £12 million ($15 million).

A Rare Portrait of Lucian Freud’s Stepson Hits the Auction Block