Since being popularised by Charles Saatchi, her biggest works have gone on to sell for over £1m.
Sotheby’s set an auction record for the artist last summer with Shift – a vast canvas featuring a line of fleshy naked bodies – which sold for £5.95m.
Heightened interest therefore greeted Ramsay Cornish Auctioneers’ (17% buyer’s premium) May 6 sale in Edinburgh where a nude oil on paper work by Saville was being offered at auction for the first time.
Nude Study, measuring 3ft 1in x 2ft 2in (93 x 66cm), dates from 1992 and was bought by the vendor from Saville’s graduation show at the Glasgow School of Art the same year.
Saville appears to have been her own model for the work, painting herself as a defiant fleshy woman, grasping her belly with one hand and staring out of the canvas.
“I use me all the time because it’s really reliable, you’re there all the time,” Saville said later in an interview.
The artist also painted herself in Branded (1992), a vast canvas similar in pose, which sold at Christie’s for a premium-inclusive £1.49m in 2011.
The study at Ramsay Cornish had been on loan since 2013 at the New Hall Art Collection in Cambridge, which exhibits Europe’s largest collection of art solely by women, and had been included in the FLESH exhibition at York Art Gallery.
Estimated at £150,000-200,000, it was knocked down at £180,000. The auction house was tight-lipped over the buyer, saying only that it was bought in the room against lively bidding on the phone and internet.
Auctioneer Martin Cornish said: “Our successful sale of this work is evidence of the importance of sensitive and targeted marketing to court the interest of significant players in the art market, vital to the sale of such a high-value piece, over and above a blanket approach to marketing.
“This combined with expertise in research and cataloguing resulted in a happy outcome.”