Another reason he returned to Tilley as his subject was her schedule: She often worked nights, and would consequently sleep in Freud’s studio during the day as he painted her. In Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995), Tilley is shown asleep on Freud’s studio couch: Her foot is tucked beneath a cushion, her hand cups her breast, and her sleeping face rests calmly against the couch’s arm. The reality of Tilley’s figure—the intricacies of her flesh, the folds of her skin softly colliding—are rendered with such reverence in these paintings that the architecture of her body reads like topography. “Skin is not inanimate,” Freud said. “It’s a living material.”
The most recent work in the exhibition, Ria, Naked Portrait (2006–07), was completed over 18 months while Freud was in his mid-eighties. Despite his advanced age and failing health, the painting represented a new vision for the artist. Anomalous from the rest of the show, the subject’s face here is rendered in dabs of paint that stick out inches from the canvas; seen from the right angle, it dissolves from a portrait into a metropolis of protruding oils. Endlessly infatuated with his subjects, Freud followed his fixations toward discovery until the very end.