The most valuable Lucian Freud painting ever offered in London could be sold for up to £20m when it makes its auction debut at Sotheby's tomorrow.

One of the artist's last reclining nude paintings, 'Portrait on a White Cover', will go under the hammer and is expected to fetch between £17m-£20m.

Freud, who died in 2011 aged 88, painted nude portraits for much of his celebrated career, but only painted three more after 'Portrait on a White Cover' in 2003.

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The painting which preceded it, Naked Portrait 2002 – a portrait of model Kate Moss when pregnant – was sold for £7.3m at an auction in 2005.

Head of contemporary art for Sotheby's Europe, Alex Branczi, said: “By the turn of the millennium, Freud was widely acknowledged to be Britains greatest living painter.

"However, even in the face of such plaudits, he refused to succumb to a late style, to allow his works to soften or loosen.

"The present work is testament to this refusal – across 50 years of painting the reclining nude, Freud was leading up to this point.”

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The painting will be exhibited as part of Sotheby's London contemporary art evening sale tomorrow.

It depicts Sophie Lawrence, who was at the time producing the catalogue for a Lucian Freud exhibition at Tate Britain.

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