By Clara Olshansky
Updated June 08, 2015
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Why will a fairly plain painting of four plain eggs on a plain plate be auctioned at Sotheby's for more than $200,000? Evidently, because Lucian Freud liked to hang out with aristocratic chickens.

The painting, Four Eggs on a Plate, once belonged to Deborah Devonshire, aka the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (in a fabulous instance of alliteration). Debo, as close friends called her, was the last of the Mitford sisters, prominent English aristocrats of the '30s and '40s. The Duchess passed away last September. In her lifetime, though, she maintained a close friendship with Lucian Freud, the celebrated painter and grandson of Sigmund. Lucien maintained a close friendship with her chickens.

"Good old Lu," the Duchess once remarked. "I take him eggs every time I go to London." As a child, Freud would visit the Duchess's estate and became fascinated by the chickens. The eggs remained part of his and the duchess's friendship throughout their lives, and in 2002, Freud gave her a painting of eggs as a gift of gratitude. As one does.

Sotheby's Oliver Barker said, "This small, exquisitely beautiful painting was a treasured gift, and today it stands as a token of their enduring friendship." Maybe, but hundreds of thousands of dollars of friendship? That's for the buyer to decide.

The painting was left with a note from the Duchess and an old rag: “Box & rag he uses in his studio containing the painting of 4 eggs given me by Lucian Freud autumn 2002, DD." The painting will be auctioned on July 1 in the blue box, with the oil rag.