A $40 Million Picasso Portrait of His Muse Marie-Thérèse Walter Will Lead Christie’s 20th-Century Sale in New York
The storied painting was offered by the descendants of the late Swiss art dealer Jan Krugier.
The original oil canvas of a large-scale Pablo Picasso portrait of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, painted in the critical year of 1932, will hit the auction block for the first time next month at Christie’s New York 20th-Century evening sale. The rare $40 million work is among a series of Picasso paintings set to go under hammer this season, coinciding the 50th anniversary of the master artist’s death.
Painted on January 18, 1932, Nature morte à la fenêtre has a presale estimate in the region of $40 million (presale estimates do not include fees), which will be the top lot leading the sale scheduled to take place on May 11. The work is not guaranteed, according to Christie’s.
The painting has been kept in the artist’s estate, after being shown only two times shortly after it was painted. It vanished from public view for nearly five decades until 1981. The work was originally among the 10,000 Picasso’s works that his granddaughter Marina Picasso inherited, which she has been offloading to fund her charity work. It was then acquired by the late Swiss art dealer Jan Krugier, who had guided Marina to sell Picasso’s art until he died in 2008. The painting was then inherited by Krugier’s descendants, who put the work up for sale.
The artwork, noted Vanessa Fusco, Christie’s head of Impressionist and modern art, and co-head of 20th century evening sale, was “created at the very start Picasso’s annus mirabilis,” bearing out “Marie-Thérèse’s powerful influence, and the great flourishing of activity she inspired in his art, from drawing to sculpture, printmaking to painting.”
The year 1932 was widely recognized as a pivotal year in Picasso’s career. He created more than 100 important works during that year, including various portraits of the then 22-year-old Walter, the artist’s secret lover while he was married to ballerina Olga Khokhlova, Marina’s grandmother. The work to go on sale in May was featured in the acclaimed Tate Modern 2018 exhibition “Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy.”
A number of paintings created during this year commended high prices. The iconic Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for more than $106 million (sale prices include fees) at a Christie’s New York sale in 2010. Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) sold for more than $103 million at a Christie’s New York sale in 2021. Last year, Femme nue couchée sold for $67.5 million at a Sotheby’s New York sale.
Unlike Picasso’s subsequent portraits of Walter, which are usually characterized by warmer colors and the curvaceous body of the woman he was madly in love with, Nature morte à la fenêtre comes in a lot more serene and subtle. There isn’t any depiction of Walter’s curves. Instead, there’s a profile of her bust sitting on what appears to be a woodblock, standing next to a plate of fruits and a jar of plants against the backdrop of an open window. The color palette is rather pale and delicate.
The lithograph version of Nature morte à la fenêtre, available in 500 editions, have been traded at small auctions in the past and sold for $2,400 hammer in 2019, the highest price it has achieved, according to the Artnet Price Database.
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