Emily Fisher Landau’s Prized Picasso Nets $139.4 Million at Sotheby’s, Achieving the Second-Highest Price at Auction for the Spanish Artist

The painting depicts Picasso's 'golden muse' Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932) at Sotheby's. Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's.

A painting by the famed cubist Pablo Picasso of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter was sold with a hammer price of $121 million at Sotheby’s highly anticipated Emily Fisher Landau sale, who considered it the jewel of her collection and hung it over the mantle in her home.

Sotheby’s won the honor of handling the estate of Landau, a longtime member of the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art who also had a private museum, earlier this year. With an estimate of $120 million, Picasso’s Femme à la montre was the cornerstone of the blockbuster sale.

Bidding started at $95 million and quickly went to $115 million, meeting its $120 million estimate after a two minute stand-off between three phone bidders, including at least one from Asia. Ultimately, Brooke Lampley—the house’s head of global fine art bidding on behalf of client—won with a $139.4 million price after taxes and fees, a rather anticlimactic result that met polite if muted applause from the audience.

“At the end of the day, this is an exceptional price and an exceptional result with real competition,” Julian Dawes, the head of impressionism to modern art for the Americas at Sotheby’s, told Artnet after the auction.

The painting depicts Walter, known as Picasso’s “golden muse,” and was created soon after the end of the secrecy around their affair. The pair first met in 1927 outside the Galeries Lafayette in Paris when Walter was just 17 years old and Picasso, then 45, was still married to the Ukrainian dancer Olga Khokhlova, the mother of his son Paulo.

“It’s just this love affair collectors around the world have with Marie-Thérèse Walter as the subject that elicits the most romantic, kind of delirious, effect on people,” Dawes said. “That was obviously how Picasso felt and I think that comes across in his work. For some reason, that is what resonates with audiences more than any of these other, other, other women.”

Ahead of the sale, Sotheby’s heralded the work as one of the most significant of the artist’s to go up for auction since 2010, though two other paintings from the same year depicting Walter have sold in recent years. His Femme nue couchée sold for $67.5 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2022 while Femme assise près d’une fenêtre fetched $103.4 million at Christie’s New York in 2021.

“The sharpness of this, the intensity of the colors and the overall purposefulness of the composition, I think is just like a world apart. The price that that work achieved is a testament to the iconic nature [of Picasso’s works in 1932],” Dawes said.

Scholars consider 1932 a highly creative year for Picasso and his numerous paintings of Walter from that period even sparked a 2017 show at the Tate Modern.

A 1937 portrait of Walter by Picasso was sold by the auction house in 2018. Estimated before that sale at £36 million, it ultimately sold for £49.8 million ($69.2 million) after fees.

But Sotheby’s considered Landau’s Picasso of special note, featuring it prominently with delicate lighting at the entrance to the preview exhibit ahead of the sale.

“If I’m willing to spend $140 million, what could I get that’s better than this?” Dawes said, putting himself in the minds of the collectors. “Nothing that’s available. Nothing that’s barely anything that’s even in private collections, let alone for sale, let alone ever going to trade at a price that is near this this year.”

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