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Portrait of a sleeping Beckham to be unveiled

By Charlotte Higgins

LONDON, APRIL 27. His waking hours may be full of turbulence and anxiety, as claims and counter-claims are flung around about his personal life. But at least David Beckham can sleep like a baby, or so it would seem from a portrait of the footballer by Sam Taylor-Wood at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The portrait, simply called David, is a 107-minute film of Beckham slumbering in bed, a drift of blond locks cascading on to a white pillow. Somewhat less eventful than the average Real Madrid match, the film shows Beckham tenderly cradling his head in his startlingly hairy forearms, occasionally stirring to reveal a hint of shoulder tattoo, a nipple or a touch of lower torso.

Beckham (on this evidence at least) has no unpleasant sleep habits, such as snoring or dribbling. His mouth remains firmly closed, though there is the odd twitch of the lips and even the occasional tantalising half-smile.

Sandy Nairne, director of the gallery, said: "It took a long time to arrange, but what turned out to be very simple was that with Real Madrid the players have a training session in the morning, followed by a long siesta."

Taylor-Wood, who was nominated for the Turner prize, made the work in a Madrid hotel room in January. "He really is asleep," said Mr Nairne.

Claims about Beckham's alleged infidelity may have rekindled the debate about privacy and the press, but ironically, Taylor-Wood's image is almost transgressive in its intimacy. The film is shot at Beckham's eye level, such that the viewer might almost imagine him or herself lying beside the star. The figure appears strikingly vulnerable.

The image is also unashamedly beautiful. Beckham's limbs and face are warmly lit, looming out of a Caravaggio-esque gloom. The curves of his musculature and honeyed tone of his skin are sensuously conveyed. This is a David as physically perfect as Michelangelo's. — Copyright: Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2004

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