One of Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated portraits of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter sold for $69.2 million to top Sotheby’s latest London sale. For a second evening running, a Picasso work was in leading position as interest in the artist surges before a new Tate Modern show and investors hoover up everything on offer.
“Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter)” was being offered under guarantee to the auction market for the first time. The work was painted in the final month of 1937, shortly after Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” and his “Weeping Woman.” The pivotal 1930s years especially 1932 is the subject of a Tate show, opening in March after being on display at the Musée Picasso in Paris.
For the beret picture, the estimate was not formally released. A figure of $50 million at hammer prices was seen as likely when it was confirmed as a star lot of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale. This was clearly reflected in the sale room, with the formal price with fees coming to £49.8 million.
Sotheby’s noted that this was highest auction price for any painting sold in Europe.
Picasso had met teenager Marie-Thérèse in the 1920s. He said: “I am Picasso and we will do great things together.” She became his secret mistress. Many of his sensual, curving portraits of her date from that time. He was happy and she is shown as passively suggestive, contented, sleepy or dreamy, with sweeping lines and flowing blond hair.
In 1935 she became pregnant, Picasso’s wife discovered he had a mistress and he fell in love with Dora Maar. Maar became the subject for many of his hard Cubist weeping women and Marie-Thérèse realized he had a new model. When she discovered he had a second mistress and the two met in his studio, he told them to fight it out between themselves.
In the portrait just sold, Marie-Thérèse gets the same hard-angled treatment as Dora, with aggressively thick paint and black boundaries. The work resembles the tearful women in his 1937 political paintings. She has green whelling tears and a silhouetted “other” behind her which may be Dora herself. The artist was once quoted as saying: “It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out.”
As a reference point, in terms of portraits by Picasso of this caliber from this period that have previously been on offer, his 1938 portrait “Buste de femme (Dora Maar)” sold in 2015 for $67.4 million.
Among the other three Picassos on sale tonight was the large “Le Matador” (1970). In the later years of his life, Picasso was fascinated by bullfighting and started on epic works. This matador was debuting at auction after last being shown at a Palais des Papes exhibition in the year of the artist’s death. The portrait went for £16.5 million, within estimate. The other Picassos – “Tête de femme” (1963), a portrait of his last love Jacqueline Roque, and “Deux femmes assises” (1908), a gouache inspired by tribal art – pushed the artist’s evening total to £73.8 million, more than half the auction’s proceeds.
Among the other highlights was Marc Chagall’s “Le Village bleu,” executed between 1955 and 1959, and estimated at £1.5 million to £2.5 million. The image has many of the artist’s common figures, such as a bridal couple, flowers, a horse and rooftops of his native town of Vitebsk. It fetched £3.7 million.
Alfred Sisley’s “La vieille église de Moret, le matin au soleil” from 1894 was estimated at £700,000 to £900,000 and made £789,000.
The sales also confirmed potential for prices of Salvador Dalí to rise. The Surrealist section was boosted by three rediscovered works owned by the artist’s friend Condesa Cuevas de Vera, who acquired them directly in the 1930s. “Maison pour érotomane” – a work fusing his native Catalan landscape with Dalí’s wife Gala from about 1932 - soared past its upper estimate of £1.8 million to make £3.5 million.
René Magritte’s gouache “Le Jockey Perdu” (1947-48) sold for £1.9 million after a bidding battle. It was one of six works by the artist. One of the rare failures was Magritte’s “Ciel-bouteille” from 1940, estimated at £600,000 to £800,000. Magritte painted more than 20 of the bottles and this one featured the sky which appears across his œuvre.
Sotheby’s had more luck than Christie’s with a landscape by Fauvist André Derain. The night before, his Westminster scene had failed. Tonight, the oil-on-canvas 1905 work “Bateaux à Collioure” sold for £10.9 million, more than an estimate of as much as £10 million. The price is perhaps not surprising because the coastal-town scene was one of those, with its bright sunny colors, that paved the way for Fauvism. Critic Louis Vauxcelles proclaimed that Derain and others taking part in their next exhibition were “wild beasts.”
Sotheby’s also boasted auction records for Lynn Chadwick, at £2.5 million, and for Futurist pioneer Umberto Boccioni, whose “Testa + luce + ambiente” beat estimates to reach £9.7 million, quadruple the previous high.
The 36 lots sold in the Impressionist, Modern and Surreal sales fetched £136 million, exceeding pre-sale forecasts of £101.7 million to £126.4 million, with a 77% sold rate. Sotheby’s said 64% of lots sold for more than pre-sale high estimates.
The night before, Christie’s London auction was also led by a Picasso, a £13.7 million portrait of his naked wife Jacqueline with a leering musketeer, possibly the artist himself. Christie’s was a larger auction, with 97 lots 78% sold at £149.6 million. It had nine Picassos on offer, and dealers said there are signs the market is being pushed up by one or two deep-pocketed rival investors keen to grab as much as possible of the Spanish artist.
Founder Louise Blouin: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/artists/louise-blouin--2953510