Prime-Period Picasso Portrait of His Muse Could Sell for More Than $60 Million at Sotheby’s Next Month

The artist painted the large-scale work during his "annus mirabilis" of 1932.

Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée (1932). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Pablo Picasso portrait of his muse and lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, painted in April 1932, could top $60 million at next month’s evening sale of Modern art at Sotheby’s New York.

The large-scale painting, Femme nue couchée, will hit the auction block for the first time on May 17. The painting marks a pivotal moment in Picasso’s career, and in his relationship with Walter. The two later had a child, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.

They met in 1927, when Walter was just 17 and the 45-year-old artist was still married to dancer Olga Khokhlova. It wasn’t until 1932 that he allowed their romance to become public. Walter took center stage in in his work in a series of stunning portraits, including this one depicting his young love as a sea creature. (Walter was an accomplished swimmer, while Picasso never learned.)

“When unveiled at his career retrospective in 1932, this cycle of monumental works scintillated with their rapturously romantic and sensuous depiction of Picasso’s heretofore sequestered mistress,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s worldwide head of sales for fine art, said in a statement. “A radical departure from tradition, this striking painting is at the same time a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse…the portrait continues to enchant, as it perfectly captures Picasso’s muse as the ultimate expression of his genius.”

The painting has been held by the consignor since 2008. Adding to the work’s perceived value, 1932 is considered the most coveted year of Picasso’s oeuvre, an annus mirabilis in which he created over 100 works, largely inspired by Walter. In 2018, Tate Modern in London devoted an entire exhibition, “Paris 1932,” to this output. The artist turned 50 that year, and was working on both his first major retrospective and his catalogue raisonnée.

Pablo Picasso, <em>Femme nue couchée</em> (1932). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Pablo Picasso, Femme nue couchée (1932). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

Another 1932 Picasso portrait of WalterFemme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), 30 October 1932, is headed to Christie’s New York in May, carrying a high estimate of $55 million.

Picasso’s third-most expensive painting at auction, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, is a 1932 canvas that sold for $106.48 million at Christie’s New York in 2010, according to the Artnet Price Database. Should Femme nue couchée top the $60 million mark, it would slot in just outside the top 10 all-time auction prices for the artist.

“There were many notable years in the long, dramatic career of Pablo Picasso, but 1932 stands out as particularly momentous,” Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s head of Modern art, Americas, said in a statement. “His portraits of Marie-Thérèse are the most desired and defining works of his entire oeuvre, and Femme nue couchée is one of the most exceptional to ever come to auction.”

The Sotheby’s announcement follows a flurry of news that has May shaping up to be a blockbuster auction month in New York. At Christie’s, Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) is carrying a record-high estimate of $200 million. If achieved, that would make it the second-most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which infamously sold for $450.3 million in 2017.

Christie’s also revealed it would offer the entire estate of sibling dealers Doris and Thomas Ammann in a two-day philanthropic sale of 100 works, poised to rival the $835 million Rockefeller collection auction of 2018. The auction house also expects to bring in as much as $250 million for the collection of the late philanthropist Anne Bass. And New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is selling Picasso’s first Cubist sculpture, the 1909 bronze cast Head of a Woman (Fernande), also at Christie’s, where it carries an estimate of $30 million.

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