Pablo Picasso’s Swashbuckling Self-Portrait as a Matador Will Hit the Block at Sotheby’s London This Month

It's the first time the painting will appear at auction.

Pablo Picasso Le Matador (1970). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

A remarkable late Picasso self-portrait depicting the artist as a bullfighter will hit the auction block for the first time at Sotheby’s London later this month, estimated to sell for £14-18 million ($20-25 million).

Painted in 1970, just three years before the artist’s death, Le Matador shows the intensity of the artist’s creative energy even at this late stage of his life. The work depicts the artist entering a sandy bullfighting ring in front of thousands of spectators, holding a sword in the manner of a paintbrush.

“At the end of his life Picasso is really coming face-to-face with his own mortality,” Helena Newman, global co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern department, told artnet News. “There’s something about the spectacle of the matador appearing in the arena center-stage before a moment of life and death that Picasso clearly wants to associate himself with.” At 89 years of age, the artist was demonstrating his desire to define his legacy, Newman said.

The theme of the matador is one that Picasso revisited throughout his career, and the obsession comes through particularly in his post-1960s work. Even though he lived in France for most of his life, Picasso always considered himself a Spaniard and, by depicting this quintessentially Spanish theme, the artist draws on his own heritage to place himself alongside the Spanish greats such as Goya and Velázquez.

Despite lower demand for work from the artist’s late period—the artist’s overall record stands at $179.3 million—Newman is optimistic that interest from new buyers and those from emerging markets will drive bidding up for this painting. The lower entry point for Picasso’s late work is “continually being counterbalanced by new collectors coming into the market looking for a powerful statement, top-quality Picasso,” she said. “That can be achieved in acquiring a painting like this.”

The house has been aggressively marketing the painting in Asia, where Newman says there has been “strong recent demand for Western art, and for Picasso in particular.” To this end, the painting will be exhibited in Hong Kong and Taipei, and will also go on view in New York, before going under the hammer in London on February 28th.

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