Artnet News Has Identified the Seller of the Prime-Period Picasso That May Fetch $60 Million at Sotheby’s

We've identified the mega-collector behind Picasso's Femme nue couchée, a pivotal 1932 portrait of his young muse.

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

It was only a matter of time until one of the world’s biggest collectors of blue-chip art decided to sell something at auction again.

That time has come.

The mega-collector Steve Cohen is the anonymous seller of Femme nue couchée (1932) by Pablo Picasso, which may fetch $60 million when it is offered at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, according to people familiar with his collection.

The striking work depicts Picasso’s young lover Marie-Thérèse Walter as a six-limbed sea creature against a pastel blue background. Her head rests on one of the tentacles.

Sotheby’s declined to comment on the seller’s identity. Representatives for Cohen did not return calls seeking comment. The estimate-on-request lot does not carry a guarantee.

The work has been in the same collection since May 2008, according to the Sotheby’s provenance. It had been in the Picasso family until then; before Cohen, it was with another anonymous private collection, acquired by descent from Picasso’s estate.

Femme nue couchée appeared in such blockbuster exhibitions as Tate Modern’s “Paris 1932,” which focused on Picasso’s protean output in that single year. It was the peak of his passion for Walter and the year he finally went public with their illicit affair. They had met on a street in Paris while the artist was married to Russian-Ukrainian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova.

Steve Cohen. Photo: Patrick McMullan/

Steve Cohen. Photo: Patrick McMullan/

Her jealousy was such that Picasso had to “keep Marie-Thérèse very well hidden,” John Richardson wrote in the introduction to his fantastic exhibition “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour fou” at Gagosian in 2011. “Since Olga was always on the lookout, the girl’s first appearances in Picasso’s work are in code.” One work depicts her as a guitar; in another drawing, as the artist’s penis, according to Richardson. In 1928, while his family was vacationing at the seaside, Picasso rented a room for Walter in a summer camp for young girls nearby. “He would pick her up there every morning to take her to the cabana he had rented on the beach,” Richardson wrote. Femme nue couchée, while unmistakably a portrait of Walter, seems to be an extension of that disguise period.

The painting once hung in Cohen’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Amid whispers that he was prepared to part with it, the auction houses have tried to win the consignment for years, dealers said. Without a guarantee, it is likely that Cohen is set to get a portion of the house’s commission on the sale, known as enhanced hammer.

It’s not clear why the hedge-fund titan decided to sell the work now. He’s worth $11.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. But the owner of the New York Mets has a hefty payroll obligation of around $255 million for his 2022 team, making it the second highest payroll in Major League Baseball.

He may be also freeing up some powder for what’s shaping up to be a massive auction season in May, featuring collections of divorcees Linda and Harry Macklowe, the estate of philanthropist Anne Bass, and Andy Warhol’s $200 million Marilyn, to name just a few trophies. In any event, he still has at least one peak Picasso: Le rêve (1932), bought from Steve Wynn for $155 million.

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