Lucian Freud, Picasso loaned to Art Gallery of NSW

A giant Lucian Freud painting of a naked couple is among six masterpieces and a collection of contemporary works that British billionaire Joe Lewis has given to the Art Gallery of New South Wales on long-term loan.

And The Bridegroom, an oil painting weighing 140 kilograms, is one of the artist’s most important works and features a favourite subject, Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, splayed on a large bed with his collaborator Nicola Bateman.

Bowery made his reputation by performing in London before he died from an AIDS-related illness in 1995.

The work is one of three by Lucian Freud, who, until his death in 2011, was regarded as one of Britain’s pre-eminent painters.

Pablo Picasso’s 1939 painting of his partner Dora Maar, entitled Woman Lying On A Couch is another of the valuable paintings that are part of Lewis’s billion-dollar private collection.

The loan came about after the businessman’s daughter Vivian Lewis approached the gallery.

“She’s a frequent visitor to Sydney and enjoys the experience of the gallery,” the gallery’s director of collections Suhanya Raffel said.

“It’s wonderful to develop a relationship with the family, and that collection, to bring outstanding paintings to Australia.”

She says Mr Lewis’s “hand” is very much evident in his collection of 20th-century British and European masters as well as Chinese contemporary work.

“All the works selected are portraits of some form, knowing that portraiture is of particular interest to this gallery,” she said.

The gallery’s head of international art, Justin Paton, says the paintings are “all about the flesh” and he did not see any issue with visitors objecting to the graphic nature of them.

“The tradition of the nude is one of the longest in Western painting and Freud fits into that,” he said.

“What I like about his work is that it provides such a retort to the idealised nude we see in photo-shopped ads and on our TV screens all the time.”

In The Flesh will be on display in the Art Gallery of NSW from April 12.

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